Directed by Ron Clements and John Musker.
Featuring the voice talents of Auli’i Cravalho, Dwayne Johnson, Jemaine Clement, Rachel House, Temuera Morrison, Alan Tudyk and Nicole Scherzinger.
A young woman uses her navigational talents to set sail for a fabled island. Joining her on the adventure is her hero, the legendary demi-god Maui.
Ron Clements and John Musker largely define the millennials’ idea of Disney. Having directed The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, and Hercules, they are integral to the modern Disney catalogue. And for the last few years, co-directors Don Hall and Chris Williams (Oscar-winners for Big Hero 6) have helped keep Disney on top of their game. As a group of creative minds, Moana was due to be a shining example of what Disney can do, and it most certainly is. It brings together all the right ingredients to maintain that winning formula. It isn’t attempting anything different, and for that it isn’t exemplary, but it is so very, very charming.
It now seems like a long while since Disney used their animators’ gifts for drawing, and had that hand-drawn style, and Moana would have been a beautiful film with pen and ink. Still, it is gorgeous – awash with stunning colours and textures – and proves how even with Pixar, Disney can make majestic-looking films with apparent ease. It is the paramount element to praise about Moana; for fans of animation, and kids who adore that bright colour, the film’s look is simply stunning.
Of course, visuals aren’t all you can ask for in a Disney film, and there must be enjoyment to be had with the story, characters and musical numbers. Going through them as systematically as the writers must have (not to point it out in a negative manner, but it has thousands of the same tropes), the story is brilliantly captivating, the music contains some new classics, and the main three characters become fresh icons. Issues only lie in Moana’s very tightly structured narrative, where side-characters are really not seen as vital. They are used for exposition (as is the case for many Disney films), but rarely impart much else. Moana’s grandmother appears like the willow from Pocahontas, or Tanana from Brother Bear, and imparts that all-important wisdom, and the parents are the cautious, but eventually encouraging duo like so many parental figures in the oeuvre.
So much of Moana feels like a rehash of other Disney films, and whereas some may dislike that laziness, others will find joy in it doing what works well (if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, sort of thing). Clements and Musker incorporate that mythical aspect of Hercules, the magic personality of Aladdin’s Genie in Maui, and the very rich detail of a community, like that of Ariel’s underwater habitat. They are professors of this type of storytelling, and may they long reign.
Moana and Maui, once together, are great pairing, but there aren’t always as many laughs as you’ve come to expect from Disney. It’s not to say Moana is a placid film – it’s anything but – yet that energy of Hercules and Aladdin aren’t as apparent here. It may be something that will come with a second viewing, once the characters are clear in your mind, but the initial dryness is strange. They are brilliant in their unique styling – Maui’s tattoos and hook, and Moana’s chicken sidekick and powers over water – enough to be unforgettable.
Moana will be one to be enjoyed time and time again, and serves as a terrific continuation of the Disney tradition. The ability for Disney to stir emotion, and to insight wisdom and fun in equal measure is seldom achieved by modern animation. This is an example of a great team of writers and directors continuing with their talents, and a cinematic legacy running full steam ahead. Whereas Zootopia brought that Who Framed Roger Rabbit wit to a family film, Moana moves back to the sheer family-orientated adventure. There are fewer adult gags peppered in, yet it’s by no means childish. Simply put, it is pure Disney, and pure delight.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★