Disney’s newest animated film has elevated the “Disney Classic” with its look into a remarkable culture and mythology
It feels too soon to say it now, but I believe there will be kids in as few as a couple days repeating an oft mentioned line in Disney’s new film, “Moana”:
“I am Moana of Motunui. You will board my boat, sail across the sea, and restore the heart of Te Fiti.”
As we’ve covered before the creation of Walt Disney Animation Studios’ 56th film “Moana” involved an approach which signaled good things for this film off the bat. Working with the Oceanic Story Trust, which was a collection of expert cultural advisors from the different island groups of the South Pacific, the filmmakers were able to cultivate a story which was truly representative of the history and culture of Pacific Islanders.
As an exploration of a new culture, Moana’s creators have tapped into a rich Polynesian mythology and created a fictional work that blends what makes a Disney film so admirable, with an introduction of such a great but underrepresented civilization.
The story revolves around Moana’s people, who have not left their island home for centuries. Once a skilled seafaring people, they inexplicably stopped navigating the oceans. Moana has a special relationship to the ocean, and she expresses time and time again that she would like to see what’s beyond the predetermined coral reef area which surrounds her island existence.
Moana’s father, Chief Tui (Temuera Morrison) is determined to keep her on the island and continue the tradition of great leaders, which she will eventually be as she grows into the role.
The community is beautiful, and bountiful with scenes of tapestries being created, and traditional tattoos being made. Again, it’s such a breath of fresh air from the traditional princesses, dragons and lore of other Disney films.
There’s so much to see and awe at in this film, which leaves the traditional forests, castles, and cities of other Disney films for a time 2,000 ago where the earth is a living, breathing, moving entity. Using aspects of the legend of Maui, the demigod who could create islands by pulling them out of the sea, the film sets to explore the idea of expectations, exploration and self-discovery.
In the film the title role of Moana is voiced by first time film actress Auli’i Cravalho, who does not leave anything lacking in terms of her delivery. Her singing voice, as well as her comedic cues and overall representation of the animated character of Moana is fantastic. Throwing in the highest paid hollywood actor in the world, Dwayne Johnson, playing the demigod Maui, and it’s a larger than life time.
One interesting thing to point out is that there is no romance subplot or love interest of any kind in this film, it’s a story about Moana and her search of self-discovery, and unlocking of heroism which she does not see in herself. You could somewhat compare Moana and Maui to an “Odd Couple” kind of relationship, but with Moana being a very noble and caring individual who pushes the down on his luck Maui to us his gifts for good.
The comedy, sincerity, and aspects of Pacific Island mythology raise this film to great heights. The music in particular adds such a beautiful element to the story. The songs may not be as catchy as “Let it Go”, but the lyrics and rhythms are certainly one’s that will be remembered. The talented composers include “Hamilton” creator Lin-Manuel Miranda, Hollywood composer Mark Mancina, and Samoan singer-songwriter Opetaia Foa’i. Like I said before, Cravalho’s and Johnson’s voice acting is great, and their singing, especially hearing Johnson (as Maui) belt out some great lyrics, ended up being some of my favorite aspects of this film.
The animation is remarkable, the characters are vibrant, and the story gets from happy to scary to plain fun many times during its course. Disney and all those involved with Moana did their homework and research, they’ve crafted a story that represents a diverse and wonderful part of the world. This film joins films like “Aladdin”, “Lilo and Stitch”, “Pocahontas” and “Mulan”, to grow Disney Pictures’ diversity catalog to truly be one that represents all people in this world, which makes me have utmost respect for the companies evolution.
As Moana, Maui, and their pet chicken Hei-Hei (I’ll just let you find out about him, it’s a great surprise) embark on their mission across the sea, the notion of heroism and family verge into a captivating and action-filled story. A definite recommendation this holiday season.