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Movie Review: Moana

moanaFor the past few years I’ve felt that Disney has mainly been off it’s “A” game, releasing films that didn’t quite reach that gold standard. Wreck It Ralph was a very enjoyable film,  however Frozen, in my opinion was unbearably mediocre and the less said about that white-washed garbage Big Hero 6 the better! But this year seems to be the year Disney got it’s groove back with the solid Zootopia, enjoyable Finding Dory and it continues that trend while breaking its own mold with Moana.


The story for Moana is very creative. The story follows the titular character Moana, a young woman who yearns to sail the sea but is forbidden by her overprotective father. However, once an evil curse begins to slowly kill her home Moana must find the demi god Maui and have him put a stop to it before it’s too late. Though the typical “hero must go on a quest to save their home” story Moana still manages to be fresh. The film is steeped in a wonderful lore and mythology which not only serves to immediately pull us into the story but quickly builds a fantastic world as well as leading to numerous, imaginative set pieces. The friendship between Moana and Maui is a very rich aspect of the story as it adds a good mixture of humor and endearment to the story and as the film progresses the two characters grow together wonderfully. The only major problem with the story is the pacing. Oftentimes the pacing can be too quick in certain places mainly the first act. We know little about Moana’s home and her family, for the most part, and thus have no emotional attachment to them which makes Moana’s journey feel less dire. The film goes through Moana’s early life in a flash due to the musical number and that with the pacing make for a rather rough beginning with little depth, a strange thing to say considering the creativity and lore the rest of the film creates.


The characters for Moana are very endearing


Moana is a very different kind of Disney “Princess” as she represents the idea of girl power far more than most. Granted there are other Disney princesses who are like Moana: Strong, capable and can easily take care of themselves. But in the end they always fall into the same trope: Their story eventually has to revolve around a man who of course eventually becomes their love interest. Thankfully that doesn’t play out in Moana where our hero forces a man to fix his own mistake. The story stays firmly on Moana, which is great as she’s a wonderful main character: Charming, funny as well as being incredibly brave and strong. She doesn’t rely on a man; in fact the man relies on her and in a story where the strong female role model is the lead that’s the way it’s supposed to be.


Maui is a very enjoyable character. Initially he’s just a humorous character due to his energy and self centered nature. But as the film progresses Maui goes through some excellent character development as he slowly but surely befriends Moana. There is also so much depth with the character and it is all given with just a brief bit of dialogue and some wonderful moments of animation. He and Moana work well off of one another and make for a great duo, he doesn’t out shine her or hijack her own story but he still remains an important emotional aspect of the film.


The supporting cast of characters is surprisingly lacking but with a story where just two characters can easily carry the film it’s acceptable. There are a few good supporting characters such as Hei Hei Moana’s pet rooster who serves as some wonderful comic relief every now and again and of course Moana’s grandmother Tala. Though brief Tala is incredibly memorable due to her humor and thoroughly endearing nature.


Acting for Moana is done very well


In her very first starring role Auli’I Cravalho does a wonderful job as Moana. Cravalho gives a very passionate performance and fits into her role perfectly; it truly is surprising to see that this is only her first role ever as it seems as if she’s been acting for most of her life.


Dwayne Johnson is fantastic as Maui. It’s clear that Johnson had the time of his life in the role as most, if not all, of Maui’s energy and life come from Johnson. His energy and enthusiasm goes into this role and it all rubs off on the audience. He’s an absolute delight from start to finish and just like his character her works beautifully alongside Cravalho making for perfect chemistry.


The supporting cast also does a very good job. The always great Alan Tudyk gives his most surreal performance yet as Hei Hei. Yes professional actor Alan Tudyk spends an entire film clucking like a chicken. The very idea is enough to send one into fits of laughter but it happens and it’s as fun and silly as it sounds. Rachel House gives a brief but memorable performance as Tala being humorous and endearing throughout.


The songs for Moana, composed by Lin-Manuel Miranda are ones that I felt have to grow on you over time. Initially the songs didn’t stick with my like other Disney songs, I felt that they were fine but not particularly memorable. It wasn’t until long after I left the theater that I mulled over the songs in my head over and over and slowly I grew an appreciation for them. The songs are well made and do well not just in being entertaining but help tell the story as well. One song in particular that I enjoyed was Maui’s song You’re Welcome an arrogant and snarky tune that I’ve grown to love due to its humorous, tongue in cheek and of course selfish nature.


The animation for Moana is gorgeous. The designs of the characters are well made and look unique and different from so many other Disney characters, though Moana irks me a little as she’s clearly made from the same base design Disney as already used in two other films. A few small changes can’t hide that. The world of Moana is a true feast for the eyes with the very ocean looking real and colorful not to mention the warm and inviting island settings. Moana also uses different forms of animation, during a villains song the colors turn to neon and the effect is wonderful but of course the real show stopper is Maui’s 2D animated tattoo. Maui’s tattoo doesn’t speak but has a vast amount of expressions and movements that get his emotions and feeling across perfectly. The 2D animation mixed with the 3D animation is perfect and adds something of a little show within the movie itself.


Final Thoughts: Disney has gone three for three this year thanks to Moana. With a creative story endearing characters, wonderful acting, good music and beautiful animation it truly stands as one of Disney’s strongest modern ventures. I went in expecting a lot and I wasn’t let down for a second.


Verdict: 4.5/5

About the Author

Good day to you, my name is Jonathan Gonzalez. For years I've loved movies and have been reviewing them for years, ever since I first saw Roger Ebert on Ebert and Roeper during my freshman year of high school for the first time. I am a graduate of Mercy College with a Bachelor's in Journalism and I have Asperger's Syndrome, something I am truly proud of.

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