Packed with vivid colours and exotic locations, Moana, Disney Studios’ latest picture (after this year’s Zootropolis), tells the story of a Polynesian princess who is called to an epic quest by the ocean itself. To avoid her tribe from starving, this teenage girl has to find a demigod and make him return a jewel-like heart to the goddess he stole it from years back, which turns out to be one of the most exciting adventures ever seen on an animated movie. However, after the incredibly successful (yet slightly disappointing) Frozen, the expectations with this next Disney princess are huge! Have those expectations been fulfilled? Let’s find out!
Auli’i Cravalho, a 16-year-old Hawaiian novice actress, voices Moana herself, and she does it beautifully. Her acting is heart-warming and packed with emotions, proving she will most probably have a long career in the industry after this first role. The hilarious demigod Maui is voiced by Dwayne The Rock Johnson and he delivers a great performance too, with a surprisingly warm voice that sounds very charismatic.
We are used to catchy songs in Disney movies, and Moana really delivers that too. Every single track fits the mood perfectly every time, improving the many scenes in which we can hear them greatly. They are the best written songs we have heard in quite some time, probably since the animated Tarzan movie from 1999. They may not be as memorable as Let it go, but they definitely are more interesting and colourful, much less generic. The score, composed by Mark Mancina, provides playful tunes throughout the runtime and it is nothings short of amazing either.
An entire book could be written praising the incredible 3D animation Moana boasts, as Disney once again improves its previous pictures with beautiful environments, accurate and expressive facial animation, and probably the best water physics ever seen in an animated film. Every location is breath-taking, and the elements found throughout the movie are painstakingly detailed to achieve a coherent, realistic looking world we can relate to. However, it is even more surprising how directors Ron Clements and John Musker managed to create several sequences in which a more traditional, two-dimensional animation is thrown in, getting jaw-dropping results that are as pretty as inspiring.
Characters themselves were cleverly designed, too. Maui’s fun lines were complemented with the living tattoos he has all over his body, which in addition to providing visual jokes, served as the character’s conscience. Moana’s design was very surprising, as instead of making a purely stylised model for her in which unachievable beauty standards are promoted, Disney decided to make her more down to earth. Her body size is more common, proving not all princesses need extremely thin legs and flimsy bodies to be pretty. In a time in which society is obsessed with looks, it is a very welcome change, especially if it is the beginning of a trend that will not bombard the younger viewers with unrealistic standards.
Moana also proves not every princess needs a love interest to feel like a complete character. While many argued Frozen promoted this with Elsa’s character, I had the feeling that every feminist idea Elsa introduced in the film was instantly weighed down with Anna’s urgent need to have a man in her life in order to achieve happiness. Not only this new princess doesn’t get married, but also no love-related story-lines are featured at all. Moana is a complete character with her own strengths, motivations and limits, as all of us are. She has friends, such as Maui, who help her in her quest, but in not a single moment does the movie suggest love is essential for a female character in her pursue of happiness. It may sound exaggerated to give this fact such an importance, but when comparing the amount of women that are not dependent on other characters and the amount of men in that same situation in Disney movies, it is undeniable that there has been a lack of characters that will promote this kind feminist ideas that are so necessary in our society.
The sense of adventure is absolute during the entire movie, it is the edge-of-the-seat kind of film for both kids and adults alike. Most of the runtime, the characters spend their time on a little boat, but the witty script and the excellent action pieces that are thrown in every now and then (one of these features a gigantic ship full of coconut warriors, which reminded me a lot of the brilliant Mad Max: Fury Road and was awesome) are more than enough to keep the interest alive at all times. It doesn’t have a single dull moment!
There are, however, some minor shortcomings. The sidekick character is a stupid chicken that instead of achieving comedic relief turns out to be an annoying feature of the film. Its actions are limited to getting hit on the head, and these moments are as uninspired as one can imagine, with no creativeness to support them. In addition, even if it’s something usual in this kind of family-oriented movies, many plot-points are excessively predictable, especially during the third act. Finally, some slighly dramatic moments could have been stronger to achieve the effect they were intended create.
Moana is one incredible experience. Interesting, heart-touching, exciting and a lot of fun. And hopefully, she is an inspiring princess too, for both current and future generations. 9/10