Moana is the story of a young woman who sets out on a journey to save her family and the island she is meant to govern as chief from a dark force that is spreading across the ocean because the demigod Maui stole the heart of an ancient island goddess.
This film is one of Disney’s bests in years. Just like Frozen, the last Disney musical, the animation studio continues to tread on the path of a second renaissance era with another triumph. Once again, we have a great film with a lovable princess-like character young girls can look up to, a memorable soundtrack, and stellar animation.
Who is Moana? This question is at the center of her character, and one of the reasons she begins her journey is to find herself. Is she the daughter of the chief who must lead her island, or is she destined for something greater? I loved Moana in every way one can appreciate a character. She is driven, curious, loyal to her family and her people, and she will do anything to save them, even if that means facing the most terrifying monsters across the seas. Here is a young woman who possesses no special powers (that’s right, the ocean merely helps her; she cannot control it), no incredible abilities, and she will face beasts that will devour her or those that throw fire and stand a hundred feet tall. Some of the best characters are those who will do anything for the people they love, who will go up against impossible odds with no fear.
As Moana takes center stage, she achieves more than most Disney princesses. Most of them get saved by their prince. Eric killed Ursula. Beast fought Gaston and saved himself and Belle from him. Aladdin broke Jasmine out of the giant hourglass and tricked Jafar. Does Maui play a part in the final battle at Moana’s side? Of course, albeit a lesser role than past male characters in Disney films. Moana is the one who goes face to face with the monster without doubt, without fear. She is a princess audiences will come to love and remember for years to come.
Remember how Let It Go was everywhere several years ago? Of course you do. How could anyone forget? Well, prepare yourselves, because there is a song in Moana that is bound to become just as popular. It bares the same kind of message: you have to put your fears behind you and embrace who you are because you just can’t help it. But just because it’s played out doesn’t mean it isn’t great. The song in question is very well-written, the sequence is beautifully animated, and the singing voice of Moana executes the lyrics perfectly. It deserves to be held to the same standard as Let It Go, and you’re gonna love it when you see it on that screen.
The animation in Disney films is getting better and better with each successive film, and it shows in Moana. The ocean has never looked so good in an animated film; as it moves so seamlessly, you feel as if you can reach into screen and touch it. If you take away every other element in the wide shots of the ocean, it could nearly pass for a picture of the real ocean. A highlight of this film’s animation is a tattoo of Maui’s, which is of himself, that makes and expressions and that Maui can interact with. Even the small detail of the tattoo stands out as a perfect representation of the full size character. It’s so life-like that it might as well be Maui’s own conscious, and it doesn’t even speak. Just like the magic carpet in Aladdin, Disney has created a character that only communicates through expressions, and they pulled it off in such a majestic way.
As great as Moana is, it’s story is quite unoriginal. You have a determined young protagonist who is forbidden from doing something they are obviously destined to do. Some people tell them they can’t do it while a few encourage them. There is only one person who can help the protagonist, and this person refuses at first but grows to like the hero over time. A lot of plot elements from Disney’s films are present in the story of Moana. The forbidden place the protagonist goes to anyway (“You must never go there, Simba”), the rebellious young hero (Simba again, Ariel, Rapunzel, etc.), having a powerful companion (Genie), and so on. OK, these may seem like common tropes, but the point is that these are re-occurring elements in Disney films. It would really be something for them to create something of an original story like Pixar did with Inside Out last year.
Even though it’s story isn’t very original, Moana boasts the best Disney princess since Belle, remarkable songs, and the best animation from the studio. Go check it out and prepare to be enthralled. A
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“I think cinema, movies, and magic have always been closely associated. The very earliest people who made film were magicians.”-Francis Ford Coppola, director of The Godfather Trilogy