Starting with 1989’s The Little Mermaid, Disney has nurtured and encouraged the idea of sassy, bold heroines. Since then, several “girl power” movies have been released to critical acclaim, including Beauty and the Beast, Mulan, Princess and the Frog, etc. Following the same inspiration, Disney favorites (John Musker and Ron Clements) did not disappoint fans with their first 3D film, Moana. This Polynesian-inspired feature is near-perfection on accounts, least of all, thanks to its grounded and likeable title character. Check out this spoiler-free review to hear my thoughts on Disney’s newest princess!
Inspired by Polynesian folklore, Disney’s Moana gives an explanation as to why there was a period in which no one travelled the seas in the South Pacific. In their version, the goddess Te Fiti, is responsible for the creation of all the islands. When the demi god Maui (Dwayne Johnson) steals her heart, the islands fall under a terrible curse that is slowly, but surely draining life itself from the land and sea. Years later, Moana (Auli’i Cravalho) yearns to travel, but is forbidden by her overprotective father. When Moana sees that the curse has finally invaded her home, she is encouraged by her grandmother to defy her parents to save her people. So, she sets off on a journey (accompanied by a chicken Heihei – who looks eerily similar to Finding Dory’s Becky the Loon). On her adventure, Moana seeks out Maui, so he can help her return Te Fiti’s heart. Along the way, they encounter pirates, giant monsters, and unforgiving waters. As with all heroes, Moana not only learns how to save the day, but learns to embrace her identity.
Simply put, there are many, many reasons to be enchanted by this film. The characters are endearing, the animation is flawless, and the plot is refreshingly romance-free. Circling back to the animation, the tropical settings are pristine and Maui’s interactive 2-D tattoos are a character of their own. I was also pleased to see that the body types/facial features of Moana and her villagers seem to be more inspired by the Lilo and Stitch style than recent films. Moana’s muscular frame, wider nose, and thick hair don’t exactly align with the damsel type. Maui’s broad frame and disproportionate size was also fitting for a demigod. I recall there was resistance when Maui’s design was released, but I found his larger-than-life style to fit perfectly with his larger-than-life ego. As a fan that misses visual distinction between the Disney universes, I am happy to see that every film won’t look like they take place in a Tangled suburb.
Secondly, the score also found a unique voice thanks to the combined talents of Mark Mancina, Opetaia Foa’i, and Lin-Manuel Miranda. The score features choruses sung in the native Polynesian languages and the characters’ songs are irresistibly cheerful, (except for one flat tune that is sung by a giant crab – sorry Lin). “The Rock” even got a chance to show off his pipes with a jaunty “look at me” solo. And lastly, Moana’s theme, “How Far I’ll Go” is far more majestic than the overplayed Frozen anthem.
All of these elements aside, what really won my admiration was the title character. Moana is frankly, an exquisite blend of Pocahontas and Mulan (albeit in a shorter frame). Newcomer Auli’i Carvalho gave Moana a heartfelt voice, despite her age (14 at the beginning of production). Speaking of her age, I appreciated the fact that a teenage character was voiced by an actual teenager. Because of this, I felt that Moana was bursting with sincerity. She is ambitious, silly, headstrong, and painfully real. This character is an inspiration to young women who wonder if they’ll ever accomplish great things. And Ms. Carvalho is living proof to young actresses that you don’t need to be a household name to become a Disney princess.
In conclusion, Moana is a princess film that is worthy of joining the Disney franchise. The catchy songs, distinct animation, and loveable characters are worthy of a Frozen cult following (but let’s all pray that doesn’t happen.) If you haven’t already, shake off your post-holiday blues and go enjoy this soaring, feel-good adventure. I’d be surprised if you weren’t pre-ordering the DVD as soon as the credits roll 😉