Moana movie full length review - "Moana" is one of the best animated movies of 2016!
"Moana" is the Polynesian word for "ocean". And that's only the beginning of the cultural and historical connections between Polynesia and Walt Disney Animation Studios' "Moana" (PG, 1:43).
After a lengthy, worldwide talent search, the job of voicing the title character went to Hawaiian native Auli'i Cravalho, who then became, at the age of 14, the youngest person ever to voice a Disney princess character. Her co-star, Dwayne Johnson, also of Polynesian (Samoan) descent, plays a character based on a major figure of the same name from Polynesian legend. Cravalho and Johnson are joined by Troy Polamalu, the former NFL Pro Bowl player, who also has Samoan ancestry and voiced one of the villagers. Besides casting these and other actors of Polynesian blood, Disney developed this movie by sending co-directors Ron Clements and John Musker on tours of the South Pacific in order to make sure the film accurately and respectfully portrayed the look and culture of Polynesia. Of course, this is all within the context of a Disney animated feature film? which, in my opinion, has turned out to be the studio's best in years.
Moana Waialiki (Cravalho) is the daughter of the chief of a small topical island called Motunui. She grew up hearing legends about the origins of her world and the water which surrounds it and always felt drawn to the ocean. It's an attraction that her father, Chief Tui (Temuera Morrison), won't allow her to indulge, fearing for her safety, while Moana's Gramma Tala (Rachel House) urges her to be who she is meant to be. When a mysterious plague starts killing the fish and vegetation on which her people depend, Moana feels compelled to follow the example of her wayfinding ancestors and make a journey across the ocean in search of a legendary remedy ? and she is convinced that the ocean has chosen her.
Moana is sailing off in search of the legendary shape-shifting demigod, Maui (Johnson), who helped create this world by pulling the islands up out of the ocean with his large, magical fishhook and by controlling the son to lengthen the day. But he also stole a beautiful green gem stone ? the heart of the island goddess, Te Fiti. The lava demon, Te Ka, then attacked Maui, causing him to lose the stone, as well as his fishhook and end up stranded on a remote island for 1,000 years. When Moana lands there, Maui believes the gods have sent him the boat to end his exile. Maui is a very arrogant, self-assured demigod and has no interest in helping this young island girl to save the world from the plague ? which he caused.
Convincing Maui to travel with her to put back Te Fiti's heart (which the ocean itself has graciously but insistently brought back up) is only the first of Moana's challenges with Maui at her side. Moana knows nothing about seafaring, so Maui has to teach her. So Maui can utilize all his powers, Moana has to help him retrieve his magic fishhook, a task that involves making it through some place called the Realm of the Monsters. Then they have to fend off an attack from cute, but nasty coconut pirates which look and act like a cross between the Minions from the "Despicable Me" movies and Immortan Joe's army in "Mad Max: Fury Road" ? on the high seas. If our heroes survive all that (and crossing the ocean on a glorified raft), there's the issue of getting past Te Ka so they can put back Te Fiti's heart. Simple, right? "Moana" is a highly entertaining and edifying journey. Although the character of Moana and her mission are Disney inventions, the heart of the story is the rich and exotic culture of the Polynesian people of the South Sea islands. Moana is a tough and determined but vulnerable and adorable combination of previous Disney heroines like Merida from "Brave", Ariel from "The Little Mermaid", Rapunzel from "Tangled", Anna from "Frozen" and Mulan from? "Mulan". (However, the adventure that accompanies Moana's mission and the character of Maui will likely make this movie popular with the boys too.) Of course, a Disney princess (or, "Chief's daughter" as Moana prefers) needs a sidekick and she has a bug-eyed, none-too-bright pet rooster named Heihei for company and substantial comic relief.
The film features computer animation, mainly to enhance the look of the ocean on screen (the water ? and the entire film ? are gorgeous!), but there are also some hand-drawn images nested within the movie ? in the form of Maui's tattoos, which move on their own, illustrating scenes from his life and giving him advice. Then there's the wonderful original music ? much of it by none other than "Hamilton" auteur Lin-Manuel Miranda (hired for this job even before his revolutionary musical take on American history took Broadway by storm) ? and Dwayne Johnson sings some of Miranda's composition! Last but not least, the film is bookended by the clever animated short "Inner Workings" ? and a very funny post-credits shout-out to the directors' 1989 film "The Little Mermaid". "Moana" is not to be missed! "A"