Disney’s Moana is the final product of a group of extremely talented individuals working within the constraints of a restrictive and heavily outdated film structure. The film follows the story of young Moana, the daughter of her native island’s ruler, and destined to take over the role in her adult life. Her strong desire for adventure and exploration clashes heavily with her father’s insistence that she must remain within the confines of the island for her own safety. She obviously rebels and the basic storyline unfolds much as one would expect.
Every cliché is present. From the silent but presumably loving mother, to the eccentric but wise grandmother figure, the wacky comic-relief animal sidekick who is most definitely the very worst part of the film, to the conflicted anti-hero who abandons the protagonist only to redeem himself in the finale, the very bones of the story are impossibly familiar. Everything else, however, is a brilliant, creative, wonderful effort at distracting the audience from the tired structure.
The integration of pacific islander lore and mythology, for one, was interesting, refreshing, and appeared to be very respectful of the culture – unlike some past not-so-brilliant attempts by the company, namely, of course, the ghastly implications of their depiction of historical figure, Pocahontas. Moana, from the perspective of someone whose only knowledge of pacific islander culture came from research pertaining to the writing of this review, feels like a genuine attempt to embrace the mythology. The imagery in the film is also creative, colourful, rich and complex. The landscapes are breathtaking, the movement is tangible and fluent, and the finale holds some of the most impressive Disney animation visuals to date. It is worth mentioning, too, that the hand-drawn segments of animation in Moana were both a surprise and a true delight.
In addition, the soundtrack, by Grammy Award-winning composer Lin-Manuel Miranda, is catchy, creative, upbeat, and an all-around wonderful experience which combines several instruments and musical styles to create what is sure to become a classic soundtrack. Not to mention the brilliant talent in both voice acting and singing that was Auli’i Carvalho in her very first role.
It is difficult, in a final note, to make an objective judgement on the film. The script is at best weak, and the story is overall extremely predictable and filled with tired tropes which aren’t touched upon in a very new way. However, watching the immense work of talented animators, voice actors, and musicians build something truly artistic within these frustrating constraints is a definite joy to watch.
Overall Rating: 7/10