I finally saw “Moana” for the first time yesterday. Aside from “Doctor Strange,” it was something I’d been looking forward to seeing before the year’s end. So, did I enjoy it? Well, long story short, yes. Oh, and before I forget, there is a short before this movie. I won’t go into it, but I will say that while I’ve enjoyed other shorts more (either from Disney or Pixar), it has a message that I feel kids AND adults should take to heart. Now, with that, let’s get into the nitty gritty without going into spoiler territory.
The story of “Moana” is basically a chosen one adventure. Moana is the daughter of an island chieftain who refuses to allow anyone to sail past the reef because it’s too dangerous. But Moana has been drawn to the ocean since she was little and, despite preparing to take on responsibilities as the new chief, still longs to sail outside the island. But she gets her chance when it’s discovered that her island is slowly wasting away. Now she must set out to find the demi-god known as Maui to help her restore her homeland. Will she succeed or is it too big of task for her to handle?
There’s so much more to the story than I’m telling, but a lot of it is set up as exposition at the beginning. From there, it becomes more about the adventure Moana gets to go on and how she interacts with Maui once they meet. I’ll just say it now: I enjoyed every character in this movie but Moana and Maui were the shining stars. Even though Maui starts off as kind of a pompous jerk, he grows on you. He reminded me in shades of Genie from “Aladdin” for having a bombastic personality at the start and throwing in some godlike power usage during his introduction song (more on those later). He doesn’t throw in nearly as many pop culture references, but the couple that were there were a little cringeworthy. However, he still gets some serious moments and backstory that set him apart as well, and I adored his shape-shifting powers. Props to Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson for an overall solid job.
But I have to give bigger props to Auli’i Cravalho for being the voice AND singing voice for Moana. This is her first film and I felt she did an incredible job. She sounded like a pro and I really hope this opens some doors for her. Moana herself is extremely likable, much like the female leads in recent Disney films, and her steadfast attitude made her compelling to watch. The movie even pokes fun at her having a couple animal sidekicks like so many others, though I was surprised that the one I wasn’t expecting ended up joining her on her journey. Despite that, it got some chuckles from me.
I loved the world they built here as well. I don’t know hardly anything about Polynesian culture and mythology, but I was fully invested in what this movie presented. The tropical setting is always something I’ve loved, and the various threats the movie presents were feasts for the eyes. Honestly, I think Disney has stepped up their game in the 3D animation department with this one. There’s also additional animation that was definitely welcomed and surprisingly fluid. I hope they use the techniques presented here in future films.
As is typical for Disney, the songs are a lot of fun. I’m not sure how memorable they’ll end up being, given the styles they’re in, but I found myself liking each one of them. My favorites ended up being the more bombastic ones like Moana’s song, “How Far I’ll Go” and a few Polynesian-influenced tracks as well. Maui’s introduction song, “You’re Welcome” was fun and I have to give kudos to The Rock for doing an admirable job at singing it. The only song I was kinda iffy on was essentially a villain’s song, though there are arguably more than one of those in the film. It was still a fun song, but it didn’t resonate with me as much because the character it’s attached to is kinda minor in the grand scheme of things.
If I had to pick any major gripe I had with the movie, it’s that the basic plot points it hits are cliched and predictable. You can see at certain moments where the story’s going, even though the story concept is executed well enough (aka by having some poignant emotional moments). It’s just odd after coming off of “Frozen,” where they at least tried to subvert some of the usual Disney tropes. The movie also felt pretty fast paced, which made the adventure aspect of it seem kinda short in relation to the rest of the story.
Despite those gripes, “Moana” was definitely entertaining and worth watching. Moana as a character is easily one of my favorites in recent memory, and I liked that the story was both an physical and emotional journey for her and Maui. I’ve always had an affinity for Disney movies that break the mold (*cough*Lilo & Stitch*cough*), so I was glad to see “Moana” move away from the princess angle in favor of an adventure film .While it has its flaws, I would still highly recommend this to kids and adults alike.