Dan's Review: "Moana" keeps Disney's streak going
Nov 23, 2016 12:13AM ● Published by Dan Metcalf
Moana © 2016 – Disney Animation
Rated PG for peril, some scary images and brief thematic elements.
Starring (voices of) Auli'i Cravalho, Dwayne Johnson, Rachel House, Temuera Morrison, Jemaine Clement, Nicole Scherzinger, Alan Tudyk, Oscar Kightley, Troy Polamalu, Puanani Cravalho, Louise Bush.
Written by Jared Bush, Ron Clements, John Musker, Chris Williams, Don Hall, Pamela Ribon, Aaron Kandell, Jordan Kandell.
Directed by Ron Clements and John Musker.
Disney Animation is no longer the ugly step-sister to Pixar. With a solid string of films like Frozen, Big Hero 6, Wreck-it Ralph and Tangled, the Disney folks are back on even par with Pixar, which has fallen off in scope of quality and originality, depending on sequels (Finding Dory, Monsters University, Cars 2) for their bread and butter. The Pixar folks still produce quality original films (Inside Out), but their successes have been more spotty than constant. While Disney continues to distribute Pixar films and license their content, it might seem like they’re all one big, happy family, but the distinction between the two studios doesn’t feel as unique as before. Maybe it’s because John Lasseter has his fingers in both operations, but the competition between Pixar and Disney animated films has been beneficial to audiences who enjoy great family entertainment. Disney’s latest animated feature is Moana, a Pacific island fable about a girl trying to save her people from destruction.
Auli'i Cravalho voices Moana, the daughter of Chief Tui Waialiki (Temuera Morrison) and his wife Sina (Nicole Scherzinger). She’s a girl who seems drawn to the ocean, despite a curse that lives beyond the island’s shores. The curse exists due to the shape-shifting demigod Maui (Dwayne Johnson) who stole a sacred stone Heart of Te Fiti from an ocean goddess who has slowly been sapping the life from islands ever since. The stone eventually calls to Moana, who sets out to find Maui and return the stone to its home. With inspiration from her grandmother (Rachel House), Moana finds Maui and convinces him to join her quest. They encounter a tribe of coconut-headed miniature warriors, a jewel hoarding crab (Jemaine Clement) and other dangers before coming up against Te-Ka, a demon of earth and fire who also seeks the stone. Moana and Maui must rely on each other if they are to defeat Te-Ka and restore life to the ocean.
Moana is a very good film, with a great story of adventure, rooted in fables of the South Pacific, in a musical setting. The voice casting (almost all of which have some Polynesian ancestry) is well placed, with Johnson providing most of the laughs and heart of the story. He also voiced Lin Manuel Miranda’s (and others) songs, which may not be show-stopping like Frozen’s “Let It Go,” but they are Broadway-quality.
I wouldn’t consider Moana the best animated film of the year, but it is certainly one of the best family films of 2016.