Disney, you've outdone yourselves this time. If I could give this film an infinite amount of stars, I so would.
It’s been three years since the release of Frozen, but has the world forgotten about Anna and Elsa? Absolutely not. Big Hero 6 and Zootopia followed in its snowprints, with Zootopia producing a slight crack in the ice. But surely something can sink Frozen into a never-ending crevasse?
The Polynesian heiress (not princess) Moana (Auli’i Cravahlo) is our saviour, alongside her animal sidekicks HeiHei (a clueless rooster) and Pua (a puppy-like pig). Unilike Moana’s class Disney predecessors – think Hercules and The Little Mermaid – the focus is on the human Moana and her quest to return the stolen heart of the island goddess Te Fiti to restore the darkness that is now consuming her home island of Motunui. And who is the culprit of this theft and subsequent failing of Motunui’s ecosystem? The trickster demigod Maui (Dwayne Johnson).
Moana is entrusted by her grandmother Tala and the ocean itself to deliver this stolen relic, in hope to save the beloved people of her island. Moana’s goal ceases to falter throughout the story, no matter what is thrown her way, especially the trials and tribulations of befriending Maui so he can lead the way to Te Fiti, and to help her defeat the monsters that lie in her wake. In typical Disney fashion, Moana’s journey involves a variety of musical numbers. What differs from its predecessors, however, is Lin-Manuel Miranda. The brains behind the acclaimed musical Hamilton, Miranda is able to transfer his insane musical ability to Moana, both through encapsulating the Polynesian culture and the addition of his infamous, self-cognizant lyrics. Auli’i Cravahlo’s ‘How Far I’ll Go’, Dwayne Johnson’s ‘You’re Welcome’ and Jermaine Clement’s ‘Shiny’ combined shove ‘Let It Go’ out of the water.
It’s hard not to compare Moana to Frozen, but somehow Frozen is still in our subconscious three years down the line – however much we’d like it not to be. Thankfully the sun-soaked Moana is able to melt Frozen away through Disney back-stepping to their 2010 classic, Tangled. Tangled was a film that saw the animation studio step away from traditional animation solely to CG with ground-breaking technological advancements, taking six years to perfect the art of animating hair. Fast-forward six years and we’ve been blessed with a film that not only gives a vast improvement on the already advanced technology, but this is also coupled with the beautiful, realistic ocean rendering and immaculately detailed animation.
The thing with Moana is that although is does get brought down at times with the usual Disney tropes, as expected, we are presented with a young, progressive heroine surrounded by a diverse cast of characters on and off-screen. Moana allows young girls to look up to this heiress with wonder, all thanks to the voice-work of 16-year-old Auli’i Cravahlo- a Hawaiian native who was the last person to audition for the titular role. Cravahlo takes the role in her stride, making it hard to believe that Moana is her first foray into not only acting, but also singing. The same aura of surprise surrounds Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson as Maui; I mean, who knew The Rock could sing?!
Moana is a delightful, emotionally-stirring animated feature to end this dismal year with. Through channeling and subverting the likes of Hercules and Lilo and Stitch, Moana is sure to be referred to as one of Disney’s many classics in years to come (if it hasn’t already).
Moana (2016), directed by Ron Clements and John Musker, is distributed by Walt Disney Studios. Certification PG.