By Thomas Simpson
Walt Disney returns with their 56th animated feature, Moana. Directed by Ron Clements and John Musker, and co-directed by Don Hall and Chris Williams, Moana draws its inspiration from Polynesian culture and mythology. The film touted controversy before its release, with claims it was culturally insensitive and guilty of perpetuating stereotypes. Opinion was more positive of the film itself once it was actually seen, even if it isn’t necessarily worthy of the gushing praise it has received.
Moana Waialiki (Auli’i Cravalho) is the daughter and heir of a chief on the small Polynesian island of Motunui. She is chosen by the ocean to retrieve the heart of the island Goddess Te Fiti, which was stolen by the demi-god Maui a millennium ago. Moana’s father forbids her to cross the reef which he feels is too dangerous for mortals however with the help of her grandmother, Moana sets sail on her epic adventure. When she discovers the heart she also finds Maui (Dwayne Johnson) who is arrogant, brash and selfish. Together they must somehow work together to prevent a terrible darkness consuming Moana’s home.
The animation is truly stunning and an utter joy to watch. The vibrant colours are rich and energetic and never once blur into a CGI mess. Most notably the hand drawn tattoos of Maui are brilliant and prove to be a character of their own.
Plot wise, there isn’t anything knew on display and the film takes a while to get going. The backstory to Moana’s quest is essential but the script steps up a gear once she is introduced to Maui. Johnson’s natural charisma shines through even in his voice acting with his conniving buffoonery played wonderfully alongside Cravalho’s headstrong and confident Moana. That’s not to say the titular character is without her flaws as her inexperience and stubbornness endanger the duo, both learn valuable lessons.
The regular Disney themes are the lifeblood of the film but unfortunately the songs aren’t very memorable. Few and far between, the songs hinder the pacing for the most part and leave no lasting impact. One number in particular stands out is “Shiny”, sung by Jermaine Clement’s monster crab. It’s very catchy and accompanies one of the more exquisite animated sequences in the movie.
Moana has given us a couple of great characters but they exist in a largely forgettable film.
It’s unlikely that adults will get much from Moana but it’s a pleasing kids film with enough spectacle to keep eyes occupied even if the first act drags a little. What will appeal to older audiences is the hilarious yet brutal, but thankfully life affirming, short film Inner Workings that precedes the feature.