When the giant empire of Disney announces a new princess, our expectations would surely rise, especially after the introduction of the influencer Elsa (Idina Menzel) from the great hit Frozen.
This time Disney presents Moana (Auli’i Cravalho) the chief’s daughter of the island Motunui, she is to inherit the leadership after her father but she dreams of sailing in the vast ocean which is strictly prohibited by the chief Tui (Temuera Morrison).
The island suffers as the fishes disappear from the lagoon and sudden disease infects the plants, Moana believes that her grandmother’s tales about the gods offers the solution by returning the goddess Te Fiti’s heart, which was stolen by the demigod Maui (Dwayne Johnson).
Moana succeeds (by the help of the ocean itself) in finding Maui who at first refuses to help her, especially after his defeat by the hands of the lava demon Te Ka, however Moana manages in making a deal with him, and so they go on an adventure to save Motunui.
Her character is entirely defined by her desire to cross the coral reef and her society’s boundaries to sail further than what is allowed, but this desire is never given a ground to be based upon, she wants to sail -simply- because she wants to sail, like a second rate version of Mulan who would defy her society and join the army to save her father.
However Moana deosn’t act upon “the voice that calls inside her” until the island is in desperate need of her help and when her grandmother Tala (Rachel House) encourages her to fallow her dream, she also reassures her that sailing is in her blood as it is part of their heritage.
This movie is the first appearance of the young actress Auli’i Cravalho who -unfortunately- didn’t leave a lasting impression, her performance could be described as acceptable.
Even though Disney in their publicity for the film focus on Moana’s song “How far I’ll go” it is not as entertaining as Maui’s song “You’re welcome”
The demigod who started the plot of the movie when he stole Te Fiti’s heart in an uncalculated attempt to help the humans, it is difficult to figure out his motives when you first meet him, for he introduces himself as a “hero of man” so it sounds like he would selflessly do anything to help the humans, later you find out however that he is not so selfless after all for he expects the humans’ adoration and praise, he even depends on it.
Maui’s character is more developed with a backstory that is easy to understand and sympathize with, but once you figure out his true motives it is easy to predict his moves and decisions, except for the one he makes by the end of the movie which was out of character and forced.
Maui with his mischievous gazes and grin and his song where he boasts of his former victories makes us have a certain fondness for him, and the moment you realize that the vocal performance behind the character belongs to the former professional wrestler Dwayne Johnson we can’t help but feel respect and sometimes amazement by the depth and great sense of humor he adds to the character.
The plot (spoilers alert):
Perhaps the best part of the movie is the one that is presented briefly and in a rushed manner at the end of the movie, when we discover with Moana that the lava demon Te Ka is the goddess Te Fiti, and she transforms to this hideous form when she loses the precious part that defines her: her heart, the only person who is capable of realizing this truth is Moan whom everyone is asking to lose the precious part that defines her: her love for sailing.
The movie finally presents its valuable lesson about how we turn to deformed versions of ourselves when are robbed of our dreams and ambitions.
One of the best characters in the movie is the duo Te Ka/ Te Fiti with what they represent to the inhabitants of volcanic islands, for one side gives prosperity and life, and the other side gives ashes and death, however either side can not exist without the other, they are two faces for the same coin.
The direction and music:
It is almost impossible to imagine a Disney princess without her songs, even the staff who were working on this movie realize this fact and made fun of it in one of Maui’s scene, even though the song “How far I’ll go” sounds like a mix between “Reflection – Mulan”, “Just around the Riverbend – Pocahontas”, and “Let it go – Frozen” Moana is not without entertaining and original songs like “You’re Welcome” by Lin-Manuel Miranda and “We know the way” by Opetaia Foa’i and Lin-Manuel Miranda.
The direction team (Ron Clements, Don Hall, John Musker, Chris Williams) seized every chance to present the beauty of Polynesia (the ocean, the lagoons, the plants) they also show off their superior ability to depict the see with its waves and sunlight reflection on its surface, which is not a simple feat when you choose the style of 3D animation.
The movie also tries to show its appreciation and respect to the art of the indigenous people of Polynesia especially in the form of tattoos by dedicating a silent character who is a tattoo on Maui’s body, who gives Maui all the guidance he needs.
We shouldn’t forget that Moana’s targeted audience is the children, so we find bright and cheerful colors everywhere in the movie, even in the monster Tamatoa’s cave, for his shell glimmers with gold.
Moana is less than what is expected but it is not a waste of time, especially with fun characters like Maui and the simple minded chicken Heihei which will make kids burst with laughter, and with a happy ending you will leave feeling entertained, however you will also soon forget a lot of the movie scenes, which is truly unfortunate considering that the movie is one of Disney’s attempts to represent the cultural and ethnic diversity of the united states of America is wasted on a forgettable princess like Moana while they have already proved that they are capable of creating a lovable character like Lilo from Lilo & Stitch.
The movie deserves the rating 6/10.