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Moana – Movie Review

The young girl, Moana (Auli’l Cravalho) is destined to be the leader of her people, but is she destined to be something bigger? Disney’s Moana is the story of a princess looking to find who she is…just like Rapunzel, Frozen, and every princess before her.

Release Date: November 23, 2016
Writer: Jared Bush
Director: Ron Clemets, Don Hall
Music: Lin-Manuel Miranda, Opetaia Foa’I, Mark Mancina
Cast: Auli’l Cravalho, Dwayne Johnson, Rachel House, Jemaine Clement, Nicole Scherzinger, Alan Tudyk

As an infant, Moana was drawn to the ocean. As the future leader of her people, her father and chief Tui (Temuera Morrison) needs her to be safe on dry land and never venture away from the island. Meanwhile, many years before, the Demigod Maui (Dwayne Johnson) has stolen the Heart of Te Fiti, the Goddess of the Islands. Her heart takes shape in the form of a small pounamu stone. When Maui stole the heart, a cursed was placed over the island and over time, each island would slowly die.

All through her life, Moana’s father trained her to be a leader, but it was her Gramma Tala (Rachel House), who encouraged her to follow her heart and seek the ocean. Unbeknownst to the others Gramma Tala possessed the Heart of Te Fiti. When the trees of the island begin to produced rancid fruit and the fishing traps no longer catch fish, Moana decides to take the Heart of Te Fiti, find the demigod Maui and restore the gem to the Goddess Te Fiti.

Moana is a solid story about a princess discovering who she really is. It is an inspirational tale for young girls and it also shows a girl who has leadership thrust upon her and embraces it.

As a reviewer, I have to judge Moana as a standalone, but it’s hard not to compare Moana not only to the last few Disney princess film, but also the string of female empowerment tales. Almost from the very beginning, I could not help but notice, I’ve heard this story over and over again in Disney Princess movies. In Frozen, Elsa has to embrace who she is. Rapunzel is on a quest to discover her true identity. The problem with Moana is that it tells the same story, but differently.

Moana has your basic cast of adorable characters. Moana’s parents, Chief Tui and Sina (Nicole Scherzinger) are good but overprotective parents. Pua the pig is cute, but like Mulan’s Little Brother shows up only in the beginning and the end. Heihei the chicken is an incredibly stupid chicken that serves as comic relief and important in a spot or two.

Moana has wise counsel, no not her father, but her Grandmother Tala and the Ocean. Yes, the Ocean plays a role in guiding and protecting our heroine.

Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson shines as Maui, the Demigod. Arrogant, but likeable, Maui is powerful but wants nothing to do with the mission of returning the Heart of Te Fiti. He is a has-been Hercules and only wants to return to the fame and glory he once had. In order to defeat the foes, Maui needs to retrieve his staff, which is lodged in the back of the giant coconut crab, Tamotoa (Jemaine Clement).

Disney continues to perfect the 3-D animation project. Moana boasts some of the most gorgeous and colorful backgrounds. The water effects are perfect. I used to lament the end of hand-drawn animation, but ever since Tangled, Disney make me a believer in their ability to tell compelling stories with computers.

Moana is also a Disney musical. Broadway composer Lin-Manuel Miranda wrote all of the main songs, while Opetaia Foa’l provides the Polynesian songs. Background music is composed beautifully by Mark Mancina.

The world knows Lin-Manuel Miranda from his hit Broadway play, Hamilton and he brings a great deal of Broadway sensibility to Moana. That’s the main problem with the music of Moana. We have an opener, an inspirational ballad, comic relief song, villain song and pretentious callbacks to the inspirational ballad. It’s as if he took a broadway checklist and after each type of song is written, he would check it off and move to the next. It felt staged versus organic.

Some songs are such as Maui’s “You’re Welcome.” The inspirational ballad “How Far I’ll Go” barely reaches the line of pretentious before backing off to a beautiful song, but the rest is Broadway sing-talk and the villain song, “Shiny” is the wordiest song in the world and incredibly hard to follow. You miss the days of the clever wordsmithing of Howard Ashman.

Moana may not be the greatest of the Disney Animated film, but it still shines brighter than its 2016 competition.