Tom Van Kalken | 13/12/2016
A near perfect animation and Disney’s best effort in decades.
2016 has been a fantastic year for animation; from Finding Dory to Zootopia, or even Kubo and the Two Strings. Moana can safely join that list. Not only one of the best-animated features of the past year but perhaps of the past decade.
Moana is one of the most enjoyable and catchy films you’ll see this year. With Disney’s last princess feature Frozen (2013) taking a step away from the ‘knight in shining armour’ trope, Moana takes this theme one step further with no love interest whatsoever.
This is a breath of fresh air for the studio, and allows for a different, if not a little predictable, take on the typical ‘hero’s journey’. The film looses the mustache-twirling antagonist we’ve become accustomed to with these princess movies. Rather, the film’s conflicts arise from the journey that Moana and Maui take and the internal struggle of discovering who they are, their place in the world and their worth in that world.
Both characters struggle throughout the film to find out who they are, where they come from and where they’re going. This theme is propagated throughout the film, in part, by the couple’s mode of transportation; the traditional Polynesian form of sailing known as ‘Way-Finding’. "It’s called Way-Finding" Maui says to Moana as they cruise across the Pacific, "knowing where you are, by knowing where you’ve been".
On this point, the culture, lore and history of the Polynesian people is lovingly portrayed throughout the film. From the songs that are sung in Tokelauan (the native language of Foa'i) to the integration of the region’s folk law in the plot, the film goes from strength to strength when it comes to representing the early pacific explorers with dignity and respect.
In terms of casting, Dwayne Johnson as the Demi-God Maui and newcomer Auli'i Cravalho as the titular Polynesian princess Moana were perfect choices. Johnson’s, now finely crafted, swagger is a perfect fit for the narcissistic Maui whose breakout number is a song titled ‘Your Welcome’. And Auli'i Cravalho, at only 16 years old, is one to look out for with not only an
expressive voice, but a powerful set of lungs that carry the film’s highlight number ‘How Far I’ll Go’.
Not enough can be said for the films soundtrack written and composed (at least in part) by the one and only Lin Manuel Miranda. I’ve had the soundtrack on repeat since watching the film and although it may lack a an earworm as infectious as Frozen’s ‘Let it Go’, the songs as a whole are without a doubt the most enjoyable and to come out of house of mouse for a long, long time.
Moana represents a refreshing change in Disney, where the old is mixing with the new. Whether it’s the collaboration between grizzled veterans like Ron Clements and John Musker (Aladdin and The Little Mermaid) and contemporary talent like Lin Manuel Miranda, or, on a more objective level, taking a tried and true Disney formula and reinventing it for a more progressive time.