Reviewed by Nicholas Vandeloecht
Between Kubo and Moana, it’s been the year of animated movies that, change a couple characters and details here and there, could have easily turned into movie adaptations of the Legend of Zelda…and become the best videogame movies we could’ve gotten to date. Instead we get the film that Pocahontas probably could’ve and should’ve been. Moana is directed by Ron Clements and John Musker and is the latest movie to come out of Walt Disney Animated Studios and showcases that Disney may very well be undergoing another golden age.
This lush, beautifully rendered film tells the tale of Moana and her quest to save her people. To do so, she must join forces with the legendary God Maui, who took something very valuable that has led to the slow ruination of Moana’s island. The two characters don’t initially get along, so you get some of that fun and awkward banter with dicey interaction between the two leads as they learn to work together. This is a gorgeous film with so much to offer from its settings to the execution of the adventure to its central characters. You spend a lot of time on the ocean with Moana and Maui, so these parts here depend on how intriguing these two are as characters, and both carry the movie brilliantly. Moana herself, voiced very well by newcomer Auli’i Cravalho, is one of the best heroines I may have seen in a film. It’s part coming of age, part self-realization as you watch this gentle yet determined soul deal with a variety of obstacles thrown in front of her. Moana is a fun, fully realized character with her own faults, some of which are played up for comic relief in a way that reminds me of the hilarious physical blunders I would see in the exceptional film Castle in the Sky. Maui, voiced with pizzazz by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, is also a very powerful character with a great balance of comical and serious moments. I thought the utilization of his tattoos was really great and fresh and it gave a respectful nod to Disney’s 2D animation days (it also reminded me of the Emperor’s New Groove, which I love unconditionally).
I thought the beginning of the movie played out very well and appropriately took its time to set up the characters’ dilemmas and conflicts and pave the way for one heck of an adventure on the sea. You’ll definitely see a couple of scenes that come out of left field, but they’re appreciated to interrupt what could have been a rather monotonous sailing venture. I really liked the songs and how they used them, particularly in the first third of the film. There is one song that people are putting almost on the same level as Let it Go (notice I said almost) and I can definitely see why, although my personal favorite was the sailing song that you hear in the trailers.
I felt that Disney did a good job in poking fun at its own tropes like the princess character and the kid-friendly sidekick, which in this case is a delightfully stupid chicken that is played up for laughs without feeling unwelcome or overdone. This film also continues the progressive stance of Frozen in how it handles its two main characters in a way that definitely works and feels real. If I have any gripes, it’s that this is a Disney movie you’ve seen before. It hits all the familiar Disney story beats, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing if done right. While I feel there was one particular scene towards the end that felt forced for story purposes, I liked how the film executed and concluded its plot. If you’ve seen The Good Dinosaur, prepare for some very similar story moments, but in the end, Moana is a movie worth owning and is another powerful entry in the Disney Animated Studios roster. RDR gives it an 8.6.