Sunday, 27 November 2016

Moana (2016) review

Running Time: 113 mins
Directed by: Ron Clements and John Musker
Starring: (the voices of) Auli'i Cravalho, Dwayne Johnson, Jemaine Clement, Rachel House, Temuera Morrison, Nicole Scherzinger and Alan Tudyk
UK release date: 2nd December 2016

John Musker and Ron Clements, the distinguished Disney directing duo who brought us Aladdin, The Little Mermaid, Hercules and The Princess and the Frog to name a few, are back with their first CGI animated feature Moana. The tale follows the titled Disney heroine, Moana Waialiki, as she sails beyond the reef of her village to find the demigod Maui and order him to return the stolen heart of the sea to bring back the nature to her homeland. As Musker and Clements are professionals at creating beautifully loveable Disney films, Moana both echoes the Disney Renaissance of the 90s and feels completely modern.

Moana’s stand out feature is the gorgeous soundtrack and score that feel like they have been created by the Oceanic Ocean, giving off a truly authentic vibe that celebrates Hawaii and its culture. This was bound to happen as the lyrics and music have been created by Broadway star Lin-Manuel Miranda and Opetaia Foa'I (from Oceanic music group Te Vaka), who have a passion for producing music that tells stories. The score’s creator, Mark Mancina worked on The Lion King, so all of the people involved with providing the music for Moana have an impressive back catalogue, making Moana’s soundtrack a serious contender for the upcoming awards seasons.

The heroine’s individual song about her journey harks back to Hercules’ I Can Go The Distance and Ariel’s Part of Your World as she longs for something outside of her containment, but Moana has something more because her urge to be with the sea shows her drive to explore more, despite leaving her family and role as a princess. If there is to be an inspiring song for children, How Far I’ll Go has got to be it. That’s not to say the other tracks are to be dismissed, You’re Welcome humorously evokes Maui’s huge ego and We Know The Way illustrates the incredible journey of Moana’s people before her, both are beautiful and both are incredibly catchy.

It’s clear that the artwork of animation is constantly improving and Moana is evidence of this. From the details in the waves and trees, to the faces of the characters, everything moves with life. Moana’s hair for example looks real when her head is turned, but even the parts that don’t pass as realistic are still stunning.

Like most family films of late, Moana includes the odd joke that adults find funnier than children. In a screening full of adults, there were plenty of laughs. The one liners that Maui throws out paired with the stupid chicken side-kick that attaches itself to Moana’s boat are the centre of humour, but when it’s not being funny it’s being heartfelt and emotional. It’s hard not to compare it to the likes of previous Disney films that have a poignant death so Moana’s one is nothing new, but equally emotional.

The heroine herself is wonderful. Moana is bound to be celebrated for her independence and the fact that there is not a prince in sight, but the latter is irrelevant. Prince or no prince, Moana is not looking for validation from anyone, not even her parents, she simply wants to help her people as a ruler and by going on her journey, she is achieving her dream of being with the ocean.

The only (tiny) disappointing aspect came with the expectations the advertisements suggested with Moana’s animal sidekick (like, as Maui says, makes her a typical (Disney) princess) being her pet pig, but due to being scared of the harsh ocean, the sidekick ends up being a very dumb but funny chicken. Instead of the cute factor the film opts for funny, but that might be a smart move to gain comic relief.
Moana feels authentic, like Disney sought out every single bit of information about Hawaii to faithfully present it to audiences who may not know much about this culture. Along with recent Disney flicks like Zootopia, Moana brings us themes and values that a modern audience need, especially in animated family films. Sitting proudly at the highest rock of Disney films, Moana is quite possibly the best Disney flick of recent years that imitates traits from beloved Disney films but also gives us something more: a flawless heroine, a magnificent soundtrack and awesome demigod. This era of Disney films continues to amaze.

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