Review - 'Moana'
Moana bares much of the semblance of your typical Disney animated feature, yet feels completely fresh and new at the same time. This film is a perfect example of a work that respects its roots and builds upon them rather than languishing in a pool of imitators.
Moana tells the story of an aspiring young woman named Moana who is born to be a leader but wants more than anything to explore the seas. When a grave threat reaches the peaceful island in which she lives, Moana takes it upon herself to travel the seas to seek out a demigod named Maui who can help her return a magical stone to where it belongs so that it will restore life to the land.
Moana is the first Disney animated film in years to really fire on all cylinders. There's just something magical about how this film works its way into your heart. I couldn't stop grinning throughout Moana's entire duration because it refused to stop entertaining me in new and creative ways. Yes, there are hiccups along the way, but for every hiccup there's a genius musical number, a stunning visual set-piece or a great heart-felt character moment to ensure that said hiccup remains just that and nothing more.
I suppose I'll get the inconsequential negative aspects about the film out of the way first. While the animation is absolutely superb, it almost looks too good. This is a story that could have used maybe a tad more grit in its image. What we get is one of the most sparkling-looking perfectly-formed movies and that bothered me a tad. I like imperfections, and this film doesn't really show them, at least not from a visual stand-point. Another thing that bothered me a little was the film's inability to linger on heart-felt moments. There are sections in this movie that could have had me in tears if they had just kept it going a tad longer. Moana is not one to linger on anything, this is a fast-moving film and that is both a positive and a negative trait.
Despite a few surface-level quibbles, Moana is a film with immense heart and a constant, bubbling sense of joy that is undeniable. The musical numbers on display here are, in my opinion, way better than the ones offered up in Frozen. I know I might be in the minority here, but to me Frozen is just a decent film that is massively overrated. Moana does everything Frozen does, only better. The songs are more heartfelt and catchy, the animation is jaw-dropping and the story is filled with an abounding sense of wonder and self-empowerment.
The acting talent for this project is also pitch-perfect. New-comer Auli'i Cravalho does a phenomenal job embodying the title character of Moana. She's a very likable personality who is easy to root for. I admired that the filmmakers took the time to make a fully three-dimensional character with believable strengths and weaknesses. I also thought the casting of Dwayne Johnson was an inspired, if a tad predictable move. He voices the vain demigod Maui and is a perfect character for Moana to spar with throughout her journey. Rachel House is also great and really gets the waterworks going in a few key scenes as Gramma Tala who is Moana's main motivator. Also worth noting is Jemaine Clement, who gets a stand-out moment voicing a massive crab with one of the most dazzling and hilarious musical numbers.
I was already a bit down on one aspect of the animation earlier in this review but it must also be stated that despite that one criticism, Moana is one of the best-looking films of the year. It doesn't come close to the beauty of Kubo and the Two Strings, but it still looks absolutely stunning. There were times when I just stared at the screen in wonderment of all the detail packed into each frame. Though I miss the days of hand-drawn animation, at least the animators here are really making the most of the technology and creating truly beautiful and inspired works.
In the end, Moana is an irresistible adventure with great fully-formed characters, very catchy and well-written musical numbers, beautiful visuals and a touching story that speaks volumes about how important it is that you follow your heart and never give up on your dreams. Forget Frozen, give me more Moana.