From the creators of Aladdin and The Little Mermaid comes Moana, Disney’s latest animated treasure. Daughter of the village chief, Moana resides on the idyllic island of Motunui where her people live off the land in paradisiacal surroundings. As a toddler, Moana is chosen by the sea, leaving her with a constant longing to explore further than the reef that surrounds the island. Her desire to answer the ocean’s call only grows, to the frustration and concern of her protective father. Moana is passionate about protecting and serving the village, a loyalty that seems contradicted by her yearning to venture across the waves. When an ancient curse reveals itself, she must make the brave and dangerous journey her father forbids with the intention of confronting the demi-god who stole the heart of the ocean – demanding him to return it. Coming face to face with her ancestors’ nemesis, Moana quickly discovers that all is not as was told and Maui – said God – is not what she had predicted. Together, accompanied by a rather dim chicken, the two must set out on a risky journey. Rich in legends, myth and magic, Moana is ultimately about the internal journey of a girl on the verge of womanhood – delivered through an intelligent adaptation of the princess films of yesterday – a category which Moana herself insists she does not fit within – despite her skirt and animal side kick. The film is coated in the traditional folk law of the part of the world it depicts – enhanced by the refreshingly and entirely non-white cast of characters.
Fierce, confident and constantly growing and changing, Moana shares the same strong qualities of its title protagonists. Everything is enhanced to an even higher level thanks to the instantly infectious song and dance numbers brought to us by the triumphant Lin-Manuel Miranda. The film’s most unexpectedly engaging character is in fact the ocean itself which has been given the same ingenious mannerisms and sass that we saw all those years ago from Aladdin‘s flying carpet. Fairly and appropriately rated PG, Moana has several dark moments but for each intense ocean storm is a moment of visual and verbal comedy, thanks to a witty and well developed script. There is no denying the feminist war cry of Moana. She is not a princess and there is no mention of any romance from start to finish. Some audiences have challenged the film, focusing on the fact that its female lead still needs the assistance of a male in order to succeed. The male in question is one with magical powers which, for me, made Moana, in all her mortal glory, all the more impressive and empowered. The voices of Dwayne Johnson and Rachel House (who captivated me early this year in Hunt for the Wilderpeople) can be heard but are not easy to identify – giving the audience little to distract them from the characters themselves. The film’s aesthetic is an ideal combination of old and new with occasional animated (body) art sequence, reminiscent of the beautiful visuals of Hercules. Moana is an absolute triumph and I can only hope that it will intoxicate its youngest audiences to the extent that Frozen managed to.
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