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.
In Ancient Polynesia, when an terrible curse incurred by Maui reaches an impetuous Chieftain’s daughter’s island, she answers the Ocean’s call to seek out the demigod to set things right.
Disney are the undisputed kings of movie magic. The behemoth which is the House of Mouse – arguably the most overwhelming monopoly in studio filmmaking – still somehow maintain a lightness of touch with their outputs. Nothing ever seems, feels, and most importantly, screens in a mechanical manner, instead with passion and personality. After a successive array of excellent offerings from the Walt Disney Animation Studios division, with the likes of Zootropolis, and Big Hero 6 to name but a few, they are most confident in their stride; able to create their very own slices of wonder without the support of subsidiaries such as Pixar. Enter Moana – the latest title from veterans Ron Clements and John Musker – which rounds off a truly fabulous year of animated film, and does so with innovation, integrity, and excellence.
This ravishing work of sun-kissed aquatica is arguably the most textured and refined computer-animated piece of 2016; a film which not only looks remarkable, but also bares eloquent warmth and humanity. Moana feels entirely lived in, as if the Polynesian landscapes and people enjoyed a life before we meet them. It is rare for a family movie to harness such aesthetic weight and potency, and even rarer for one to have such meaningful and valuable things to say. Beautifully blending song, soul, and spirit, this picture gorgeously pays homage and respect to the heritage of its setting. Establishing tradition from the opening frames, we are invited into a world of rich and wonderful tribal design; a place where community is life’s breath, and the environment is life’s heart. The connection to their roots and residency is disarmingly beautiful, and it is most admirable of Disney to take the initiative and render culture with such compassion.
Moana‘s tight-knit casting is most refreshing, too. Never does the narrative feel the need to overstretch, instead lending favourably to the safeness in sanctuary as the finite tribespeople work together to provide for their homeland. As our titular heroine (impeccably voiced by young Auli’i Cravalho) gives into the lapping waves which summon her, the film becomes a feverish two-piece – dialogue hilariously and often soberingly rattling between she and Dwayne Johnson’s demigod Maui. Together the pair have intoxicating chemistry; emotional shades altering as their voyage progresses, and a sense of mutual understanding is angelically established.
Moana knows her duty to her people, and to the ocean which chose her, but she feels out of place; dumbfounded by inexperience. Equally, Maui knows his importance to the ancient lore of his people, and how his actions have had significant ramifications upon them, yet is caught within a past life. Never do the character developments feel heavy-handed or saccharin, rather thoughtful and sincere.
The grandest achievement here however is that visually and tonally, it is perhaps the studio’s most audacious work; lyrical, ethereal, and poignant, yet it still slots so comfortably into the Disney cinematic framework. Finally comes a film where the original music – all of which exemplary, particularly Moana’s “How Far I’ll Go”, and Maui’s “You’re Welcome” – actually furthers the storytelling, as opposed to breaking from it. Characters and environments grow through sound and sense, adhering to the tale’s naturalistic rhythms. Such a joy is it to be immersed in this shimmering spectacle that even when things take an oddball left-turn and Jeramine Clement’s exuberantly unnecessary Tamatoa enters, you can shrug it off. Outside of this sequential misstep, Moana sails along with dexterity and proficiency.
Laden with fantastic action set-pieces, eye-watering cinematography, and amazing characterisation, Disney Animation’s latest is a joy to behold. An opulent and wondrous adventure which navigates the motion of the ocean with emotional clout and majestic spirit. There’s something in the water alright…
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
Moana opens in UK cinemas in 3D and 2D from Friday, 2nd December.