Moana – Film Review by Emily Elphinstone
Directors: Ron Clements, Don Hall, John Musker, Chris Williams
Writers: Jared Bush (screenplay), Ron Clements (story by)
Stars: Auli’i Cravalho, Dwayne Johnson, Rachel House
‘If you wear a skirt, and have an animal sidekick, you’re a princess.’ So says demi-god Maui to heroine Moana in Disney’s new film of the same name, and it’s hard to argue with this classification; particularly in a film which returns to a more traditional Disney format in the best of senses, while avoiding even a hint of needing to be rescued by a prince.
As the chieftain’s daughter on idyllic Polynesian island Motunui, Moana (newcomer Auli’i Cravalho) has been raised to understand her place as the future leader, despite her affinity with the sea, and longing to discover what is beyond the reef. But when the crops begin to fail, as predicted by local legends, Moana ventures forth with the blessing of her free-spirited grandmother Tala (voiced by Rachel House, whose wisdom and humour have echoes of Pocahontas’s Grandmother Willow).
In order to save her island, she must restore the heart of earth goddess Te Fiti, with the help of the smug shape-shifting demi-god Maui (voiced to perfection by Dwayne Johnson.) In a truly epic mission, they must overcome the bizarrely terrifying Kakamora coconut pirates, venture into the Realm of Monsters to battle bejeweled giant crab Tamatoa (Flight of the Conchords star Jermaine Clement;) and get past lava demon Te Ka. Maui may have the body of a rugby player and hair of a herbal essences model, but with his giant ego and animated tattoos, he is as much a hindrance as a help (with echoes of Kronk in The Emperor’s New Groove.) Moana is not a film about being rescued; it is about rescuing yourself and finding a way to help others. This growing spirit of camaraderie not only provides a warm moral element, it also introduces a far more entertaining relationship for the two leads: Learning to work together, rather than falling madly in love.
Directed by Ron Clements and John Musker (The Little Mermaid, Aladdin) Moana is made in the same vein as those Disney Classics, with a mythical adventure story, and the balance of stunning soundtrack and catchy singalong tunes masterminded by Lin-Manuel Miranda, Mark Mancina and Opetaia Foa‘i. It even achieves possibly the most idiotic animal sidekick to date, in Hei Hei the chicken. But this timeless tale also feels bang up to date, with its CG animation, and move away from the previous fluttering-lashed Princess and Castle formula. Only time will tell if the film becomes a firm favourite for generations to come, but it certainly has the potential to do so.