The latest magical animation from Disney studios is a suitably progressive affair which utilises computer generated 3-D imagery to stunning effect and boasts a powerful central female protagonist.
Moana (voiced by Auli’i Cravalho) is a strong willed princess, more preoccupied with connecting to her ancestry and saving her homeland than waiting for prince charming. In the capable hands of veteran Disney directors John Musker and Ron Clements (The Little Mermaid, Aladdin), here is another quality addition to the Disney cannon.
The story is well paced and spends the early phases setting up the characters and the rich back-story of the Polynesian island Motunui. Moana’s tempestuous relationship with her tribal chief father (Temuera Morrison) provides conflict but it is her eccentric grandmother (Rachel House) who drives the journey of our intrepid heroine. While her protective father rejects Moana’s wishes to explore the ocean, the tales of her grandmother revel in the folklore and suppressed traditions of the island. Moana is entranced by them and when her island’s resources begin to dry up, she embarks on a quest to find the demi-God Maui (Dwayne Johnson) and restore the heart of their mother island Te Fiti.
What follows is a rollicking sea faring adventure driven by well executed action sequences, eye popping visuals and memorable music numbers. It follows a fairly routine and episodic story structure but what impresses most is the depth of detail and imagination on display. The Polynesian traditions and folklore at the heart of the narrative have been meticulously well researched and are conveyed in a compelling and convincing manner throughout the film. The animation is absolutely top class. Moana’s connection with the sea is integral to the film. The sea itself is a character which acts as both a guide and a nemesis on Moana’s journey and the filmmakers find a number of inventive ways to visually represent the relationship. The characters are well rounded and the dynamic between Moana and Maui is consistently entertaining. Johnson is perfectly cast as the vain, bumbling demi-God, while 16 year old Cravalho provides a steely and enthusiastic turn in her feature debut.
Likely to have more universal appeal than the young girl demographic that was enraptured by Frozen, Moana is a an inspired, smart and beautiful looking film with breathtaking scenery, involving story-line and a thoroughly engaging heroine. The songs are pretty good as well.