For one, the feisty 16-year-old protagonist of the film (voiced by newcomer Auli’I Cravalho) is a refreshing upgrade on Disney’s classic princesses who tend to have little ambition beyond finding a man to love. Although directed by old hands Ron Clements and John Musker, the team behind enduring hits like The Little Mermaid and Aladdin, Moana owes more by way of DNA to 2010’s Tangled, about a rebellious Rapunzel, and of course Frozen, which turned girl power into box-office gold.
Set in the far-flung Polynesian islands, the film follows Moana, a teenager who has always felt a strong connection to the ocean, but is forbidden from venturing beyond the shore. When plants on her island begin to wither and food becomes scarce, Moana, takes matters into her own hands and sets sail in search of muscled demigod Maui, who must return an ancient jewel to its rightful place and thereby save her home.
The story is a fairly simple oceanic quest that really lifts off when Moana encounters – and proceeds to bicker incessantly with – the vain, arrogant Maui. Voiced by Dwayne Johnson who’s in great comic form, his beefy demigod gets some of the best lines. His animated tattoos are among the film’s visual highlights, as are the gorgeous blue waters that get considerable screen time.
There are a bunch of catchy numbers that emphasize the film’s themes of self-confidence and bravery, and Cravalho really has a great singing voice. But there’s nothing on this soundtrack that’s as infectious as Let it Go, that anthem from Frozen.
We don’t exactly get the most formidable villain in the smoldering lava giant whom Moana must go up against later in the film, but the makers throw up entertaining distractions in the form of Heihei, our heroine’s feathered sidekick, and a giant crab who belts out a song about shiny material pleasures.
Although it possesses many of the hallmarks of a classic Disney adventure, the film’s real achievement is in delivering a heroine for our times – smart, brave, independent, opinionated, and one who doesn’t need a romantic interest to feel complete. In doing that, it succeeds where so many other films spectacularly fail.
I’m going with three out of five for Moana. It’s worth your time.
Rating: 3 / 5
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