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Moana Review

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The Disney Animation renaissance that began with Tangled has been only been getting stronger and stronger in recent year, bolstered by the success of Frozen and Zootopia and a new direction in storytelling that mixes old school sensibilities with a slant that is more palatable for modern audiences. For a studio that caters mostly to the younger members of the audience, they’ve been growing with society as a whole, weaving tales that touch on issues in the world today, and you only have to look at their last couple of pictures to see how well that has paid off for them. Their latest feature, Moana, continues the roll they’re currently on, drafting in Disney legends Ron Clements and John Musker (the two men responsible for Aladdin, The Little Mermaid, and The Princess and the Frog) to deliver a visually sublime, refreshingly deep family adventure.


With Polynesian culture serving as inspiration, we’re immediately dropped into the rich world of Oceania, a vast crystal blue ocean world peppered with islands that were created by island goddess Te Fiti. When demigod Maui (Dwayne Johnson) steals her life-giving heart only to promptly lose it, a curse is put on Oceania that slowly causes the world to wither and die. A millennium later, the curse reaches the island home of Moana (Auli’i Cravalho), an adventurous teenager and daughter of her tribe’s chief who is entrusted with the task of delivering Maui and the heart to Te Fiti so the curse can be broken.

The basic story of Moana is nothing new, and really just boils down to a familiar ‘find object A to complete quest B to help finish quest C’ narrative. But it really just serves as a skeleton for what is a truly magical experience. Oceania is a living breathing world crammed to the gills with personality and intricate detail. It’s a world where Fury Road inspired coconut pirates tool around the ocean in boats that turn into more boats. Where gigantic crabs adorn themselves with gold and jewels, belting out pitch perfect David Bowie impressions as they do so. It’s a world that will plaster a gigantic smile across your face, one that won’t be going away anytime soon. The CG animation is absolutely sublime, each incredibly expressive character brought to life beautifully. And it’s the little details that push the animation from amazing to spectacular, whether it's the 2D animation used to bring Maui’s tattoos to life or the little tics and mannerisms that make the characters feel more real.

If there is one fault I could find, it’s that Moana is slow to start, hitting the 30 minute mark before our heroine hits the high seas. But then again, this extended set-up fully fleshes out her character in a way that other Disney princesses (as Maui says, “You wear a dress. You have a pet sidekick. You’re a princess”) rarely are, with another big plus in the win column being how layered and complex all the characters are. Moana is more than just the strong headed daughter of a ruler, she feels like a real teenager trying to forge her own path while respecting her culture and her people. It’s a battle I think most of us can relate to. Likewise, Maui is at first portrayed as the villain who sunk the world into darkness, but once we get to know him, it’s more nuanced than that. Once these two meet, Moana kicks into high gear propelled by this fantastic double act and a fantastic script packed with humour and feeling.

Johnson and Carvalho spark off each other nicely, with Johnson’s naturally likable personality oozing off the screen. Special mention has to go to Alan Tudyk (fast becoming to Disney Animation what John Ratzenberger is to Pixar) clucking his heart out as Heihei the chicken, the dumbest and most lovable part of the movie, and a nice subversion of the usual sickeningly sweet animal side kick trope. Proceedings are topped off by a brace of catchy and memorable songs from Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda. From the Let It Go-esque ballad How Far I’ll Go to the toe tapping You’re Welcome, they’ll stick in your head for days, prolonging that smile for much, much longer.

One of the finest animated movies of 2016, Moana will make you laugh, cry, listen to the soundtrack on constant loop. To probably no one’s surprise, Disney have done it again and delivered an absolute must watch!!!!







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The Movie Bit: Moana Review
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