Moana – Review (****)

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Disney continues their current run of Pixar-tier animated offerings with this gorgeous, hysterically funny and heartfelt outing which embraces classic Disney tropes while also giving them a welcome, fresh lick of paint.

Moana Waialiki (Auli’i Cravalho) lives on the Polynesian island of Motunui as the heir to her chief father’s legacy, despite her own long-gestating desire to venture out onto the open sea and explore. When the island’s resources run dry, however, she is forced to track down the arrogant, mischievous demi-God Maui (Dwayne Johnson) in order to correct a long-standing wrong and save her island.

Co-directors John Musker and Ron Clements (The Little Mermaid, Aladdin) sure know their stuff when it comes to animation, which perhaps is why Moana feels like such a strong compromise between the Disney of old and new. The opening act in particular is beat-for-beat like something the studio could’ve put out decades ago, with the stern father telling the princess character to know her limits, while she inevitably pines for more.

Though this might ring a little disappointing to those knocked back by the social relevance of Zootopia earlier this year, any discontent will likely be swept away by the sheer thrall of the epic adventure. The visuals, music and witty script combine with two marvelous lead vocal performances – and a ton of great supporting ones, especially Jemaine Clement as a disco-dancing crab – to likely win over all but the most cynical of viewers.

A lot of the credit goes to Johnson, really, a natural, larger-than-life fit for the animated realm, and it goes without saying that the film perks up a lot once he arrives, which is surprisingly close to the half-way point. He is, as ever, a boulder (or perhaps a Rock) of charisma, and his patter with Cravalho is both hilarious and sweet. Johnson’s singing may not be too hot technically speaking, but he makes up for it with his sheer, unbridled enthusiasm.

From here, the film is basically a buddy road movie of an unconventional sort, complete with an extended homage to Mad Max: Fury Road (but with more angry coconuts) sure to tickle older viewers. The abundance of asides like this ensure the pic never reverts back entirely to the more familiar Disney formula that dominated those opening 30-or-so minutes.

It doesn’t make any profound statements beyond serving as a fun paean to adventure, but there are some clever meta references to the Disney lineage, and the lack of a shoehorned love interest is a major feather in the movie’s cap. Women can just be women, and that’s all they need to be.

Further cementing the stupendous run of quality animations Disney have put out recently, Moana is ludicrously entertaining and visually splendid.


Moana is in cinemas now


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