Verdict: Moana is one of the strongest movies in the Revival Era of Disney. It is beautiful, fun, and subversive. You should absolutely see it, and probably in 3D to get the most out of it.
Synopsis: “Young navigator Moana (Auli’i Cravalho), the daughter of a Polynesian tribal chief, is chosen to find a precious artifact that could save her people. She teams with demigod Maui (Dwayne Johnson) to locate a legendary island, and together the pair explore fantastical lands and encounter incredible sea creatures in this animated adventure from Disney. The film’s soundtrack includes contributions from Lin-Manuel Miranda, the Tony and Grammy-winning creator of the popular stage musical Hamilton. Directed by Ron Clements and John Musker.”
The Good: Cast is great, strong script, and gorgeous animation
There is so much good in this movie it’s hard to condense it all. The voice cast, the animation, the tight script, the good pacing, the list goes on and on.
Let’s start with the voice cast. Newcomer Auli’i Cravalho brings incredible depth to Moana, showcasing her comedic and dramatic talents, as well as a beautiful singing voice. Dwayne Johnson provides a lot of the charisma and humor that has come to be expected from him, but also shows a more menacing and intimidating side that would seem hard to blend; he executes it perfectly. The rest of the voice cast has minor parts, but each deserve acclaim of their own: Rachel House as Gramma Tala provides warmth and some of the funniest line deliveries of the movie; Temuera Morrison (freakin Jango Fett!!!) and Nicole Scherzinger (Pussycat Dolls) as Chief Tui and his wife Sina are both equally wonderful. The only other two speaking parts of note are Jermaine Clement (Flight of the Concords) as the villainous Tamatoa and Alan Tudyk as HeiHei, Moana’s stupid rooster. Seriously, go look it up.
The plot and script deserve their own applause. It’s both familiar and new, subversive and reliable. The gist of the story isn’t too different from Clements’ and Musker’s previous The Little Mermaid, Hercules, Treasure Planet, and Princess and the Frog. But Moana takes these stories and their character tropes and styles, and turns them on their head, using what works and ditching what doesn’t. It’s almost a critique of their past films: times have changed, and so have audiences, and as a result, their new product is better than ever. It also continues the trend Disney has had at least since Frozen of movies doing away with predictable plots, and providing some nice unexpected twists to what seems familiar.
However, the real star of the whole film is the animation. Honestly, it’s nothing short of incredible. This is one of the prettiest films I have seen since Life of Pi and Avatar. The Renaissance Era of Disney is given immense acclaim in part because of the groundbreaking animation in The Little Mermaid, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and Tarzan. It is safe to say that Moana deserves a place in this hall of fame, and has set a new bar for the quality, ingenuity, and use of animation.
The Bad: Few weird songs, otherwise none
The music in this movie is fantastic, save for two songs. One is by Lin Manuel Miranda (Hamilton), and it is not terrible, but the song sounds out of place when compared to the rest of the music. It is like the audial equivalent of a celebrity cameo: it’s really only there so you can go “hey it’s the Hamilton guy!” However, it’s the song by Jermaine Clement that really stuck out like a sore thumb. It really sounds strange compared to the rest of the music. It is supposed to be funny, but comes off more strange than anything else. Perhaps this is a song for kids, and they will it find hilarious.
The Wonderful: Representative, what a modern movie should be
This movie doesn’t get a “The Ugly” section, because it did such a great job with casting and character design. The ENTIRE cast (except for Tudyk, but he was a chicken) is from Polynesia or has Polynesian ancestry, including Hawaiian, Samoan, and Maori. This kind of casting is incredibly rare, and should be celebrated (while keeping in mind that it should be the norm). The movie also completely changes what it means to be a Disney Princess. There’s not much more to say without spoilers, but holy crow does it do a great job.