November 30, 2016
We meet another princess in this latest Disney film. The last Disney princess film was "Frozen" (2014). From the icy and snowy North Pole, this time we are brought to the other end of the world, on a lush green island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.
The titular character Moana is the daughter of an island chieftain, and is already being groomed to take her father's place someday. Her overprotective father forbade her from sailing beyond the reefs that surround their island. One day, the coconut trees of their island got sick and the fish disappeared. Moana, influenced by her eccentric grandmother's mythic stories, took it upon herself to sail well beyond the safety of their reef. She needed to search for the macho demigod Maui and make him return the green stone "heart" he stole from the goddess Te Fiti in order to appease her.
I immediately got a vibe of "The Little Mermaid" with its background situation about a daughter who felt trapped in by her father's strict regulations. Again I am somewhat disturbed by the message being sent to young viewers about going against their parent's wishes. Under all that Disney goodwill, there seems to be a rebellious streak being encouraged for what a child perceives as "bad" parenting. This made me uncomfortable, watching this as a dad of teenagers.
Throughout the film, several film references were evident, mostly other Disney films, like "Hercules" (particularly that Maui was a demigod with hero issues) and "Princess and the Frog" (in a scene about one character falling on another). It comes as no surprise to learn later on that Ron Clements and John Musker, the writing and directing team behind “Moana,” also created those three mentioned films. The ethereal character of Gramma Tala reminded me of wise Grandma Willow in "Pocahontas".
The generally upbeat songs written by Broadway wunderkind Lin Manuel Miranda had the feel and tone of another musical play "Once on This Island." My favorite song was that smart-aleck number sung by Maui called "Your Welcome". I never knew Dwayne Johnson could sing! Another catchy (but creepy) tune was that song sung by the gold ornament-encrusted crab Tamatoa (Jemaine Clement) called "Shiny". The lyrics of all the songs are all fun and hip, with traditional heart and sentiments.
Hawaiian high school student Auli'i Cravalho was cast to voice the title character Moana Waialiki. She was confident and eloquent in her voice work, despite this being in her first major film production. Dwayne Johnson gives his distinct voice and personality to the proud and naughty demigod Maui. Maori actress Rachel House lends authenticity to the inspirational character of Gramma Tala, Moana's grandmother and link to the past. Pussycat Doll Nicole Scherzinger was kind and gentle as Sina, Moana's mother, while New Zealander actor Temuera Morrison played Chief Tui, Moana's formidable yet loving father and chief of Motunui Island.
The full-bodied 3-dimensional characters with the rich realistic look and textures of the ocean water and the island flora were in Disney's trademark clean animation style. The action sequences set on the water and in the air were all spectacularly exciting to behold. That scene with the warships looming into view looked magnificent (straight out of "Mad Max Fury Road" it seemed), however ridiculously cute those coconut bad guys were. There was a scene towards the end that beautifully echoed the biblical parting of the Red Sea, before Moana completed her quest.
I have to take exception to the annoying sidekick character of Heihei, Moana's bug-eyed pet rooster, which felt out of place to me for being too dumb and ugly. My favorite character in the whole film was Maui's independent-minded tattoo who acted like his conscience, silently arguing with the owner of the skin on which he was drawn. 8/10.