Moana

“The 0cean chose me for a reason’

Thanks to the very wonderful Den of Geek I got to see these film a week before the US release and two weeks before the UK release. I went in with moderate expectations as any 20-something raised watching Disney should – kids of today get releases like ‘Frozen’ and ‘Big Hero 6’ whilst we’ve been subjected to ‘Home on the Range’ and ‘Meet the Robinsons’. Needless to say I was not disappointed and it would not be hyperbolic to say this is one of the best animated movies of the year. It’s a movie we need right now and it’s one that does what it needs to do we ease, style and panache.

Moana (Cravalho) is the daughter of the chief of her tribe. She is not a princess. Her people have lived on the island for many years – there is peace, harmony and all the resources they need – but Moana is not fulfilled. She wants to explore and see the world, but the one rule of the island is to not go past the reef as it is not safe. But when a long-told curse comes true, when the fish disappear and the crops start dying, it is up to Moana to save the tribe as she has been chosen by the ocean. The only way she can do that is by finding demi-god Maui (Johnson) and reuniting the Heart of Te Fiti.  

Though the story itself may initially appear by-the-numbers Disney, which admittedly isn’t necessarily a bad thing, there’s so much depth that comes with what initially appears  as having been done before. The directorial duo also directed ‘The Princess and the Frog’ and thematic similarities are clear – having a female lead finding inner strength, overcoming obstacles and finding true inner happiness. Both films are noted as being the some of the first Disney movies to include non-caucasian leads. The primary differences would be location (P&F is set in New Orleans, Moana is set in the Polynesian islands), culture and the age of our leads. Tiana, the protagonist of ‘The Princess and The Frog’ is an adult thus resulting in her ‘happy ending’ being to own her own business and finding love.

Here, for 16-year-old Moana to find happiness, she must truly find herself and find her inner happiness – even if it clashes with the expectations her father has for her. It’s a joy to watch her journey. The voice of Moana is Auli’i Cravalho, a 14-year-old actress who possesses incredible talent. She voices Moana perfectly with world-weariness and awareness far beyond her years. ‘Her’ song ‘How Far I’ll Go’ (Click here to listen) which, is reprised within the film, personifies Moana perfectly: it’s both endearing  and supremely evocative.

In many ways that sums up the film’s soundtrack in it’s entirety and could easily set this film as being a future classic. To become a vintage Disney movie you need a superb soundtrack which this most certainly is. That is surely in to the skill of the song-writing team. Front-headed by Lin-Manuel Miranda (he of ‘Hamilton’ and ‘In The Heights’ fame) the lyrics are Disney at it’s finest – witty, joyous and truly memorable. He’s also composed one of Disney’s greatest ever villain songs. ‘Shiny’, sung by a monstrous crab which a golden shell made out of stolen treasure who is voiced by Jermaine Clement (‘Flight of the Concords’ and ‘What We Do In The Shadows’ to name but two). ‘Shiny’ (click here to listen) is truly Bowie-esque.Tamatoa the 50-foot villainous crab is not the main villain but definitely a monster who steals the movie in one scene. His sequence is as psychedelic as that scene in Dumbo. And, if you really enjoy his appearance, stay until the end of the admittedly long credits  – you won’t be disappointed.

Often, with a musical, it would be easy for the writers to rely on the strength of the songs and simply view the dialogue as bridging the gaps between songs (episodes of the latter seasons of Glee are surely demonstrative of this). ‘Moana’ is definitely not in that camp. The dialogue is so well written, soaring past the six laugh test with ease very early on and then continuing to do so. Thanks to the right blend of slapstick and well constructed gags truly memorable characters are created. The dialogue between Moana and her Grandmother is particularly moving (read: I cried. Repeatedly.)

Then, somewhat on the flip side, there’s Maui (voiced by Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson). He’s a truly wonderful creation. Part God and part Frat Boy not only does he get the third best song ‘You’re Welcome’ (click here to listen) – listen to the soundtrack and then realise this is no mean feat – he gets some ace punchlines and cinema’s most memorable tattoos since Leonard in ‘Memento’. His sibling/fraternal relationship with Moana is a joy to witness as it progresses, always entertaining no matter how serious things get.

All of the above is shown with visuals that are astonishing. Which each new animated release it’s confounding to observe  how extraordinarily detailed and beautiful animation can be.  ‘Moana’ in no exception. It, and the short film that precedes it, possess a beauty and detail that is regularly breathtaking. From the motion of the ocean to each curl on Maui’s mane and the aforementioned awesome tats – this is a genuine spectacle to behold.

4.5

Moana is released in UK cinemas on December 2nd.

Dir: Ron ClementsDon Hall

Country: United States

        Year: 2016               Run time:95 minutes

Cast: Auli’i CravalhoDwayne JohnsonRachel HouseTemuera MorrisonJemaine ClementNicole ScherzingerAlan Tudyk

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