If there is one studio who isn’t afraid to embrace a culture in their films, it would have to be Disney. Following a rebellious soon-to-be leader of her people, we are taken into the world of title character Moana, but whatever you do, don’t call her a princess. No, she is far more than that, and you can count on her ability to inspire you, your children, and a culture that hasn’t been given the treatment on film it deserves. Her journey leads her to try and find the demigod Maui (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson), a shape shifting immortal who could be the key to fixing all that darkness swallowing up her beautiful island home.
The directors, Ron Clements and John Musker, are no strangers to working on Disney films with iconic female protagonists. Their work includes, The Little Mermaid, The Princess and the Frog, as well as Aladdin and Hercules, all staples of the brand that is Disney. The recruitment of Hamilton star and creator Lin-Manuel Miranda is not too bad for a film either. You can most certainly feel his presence in the film with songs that could easily translate to the stage in epic fashion. It was when I got home I had to make sure I wasn’t crazy, so I checked to see if the lead actors were actually singing their songs, and it wasn’t just me imagining things in a theater full of parents with their kids, it was all real. As I saw the soundtrack on iTunes, I read down the artist list in amazement as I read the names of Dwayne Johnson and Moana voice actress Auli’i Cravalho as the ones who performed their character’s songs.
Why is it that last sentence is so important? Well, it’s because the songs were sung wonderfully! Auli’i Cravalho is only 16 years old, but her delivery as Moana in song and dialogue were that of a veteran or someone well beyond her years. What she did to the humanity of Moana, as well as her songs, was what gave this movie such heart and emotional pull. Her charisma seeps through her character like water in the desert sands, but the difference is that there is nothing dry about this movie that I could find. Sure, there’s one song that feels out of place to the grand scheme of things, but the scene it goes with is stylistic in ways that give respect to the Polynesian culture as well as the stylings of films such as The Road to El Dorado or Atlantis. But if you must know, yes, The Rock is terrific as Maui. As well conceived as the character is, Moana herself is the star of the film, and rightfully so. Heck, the film is named after her, and it’s her story that we watch.
The Disney brand is safe and thriving yet again with Moana. With a period in time where women and cultures are working on being recognized by the public all the more each day, Moana gives them a chance to put a stamp on their value. From one of the first songs to even the tattoos looking like they were risen (like a real tattoo), there is attention to detail alongside the emotional depth of the songs, story, and characters. I can admit there were even times I felt my eyes swell simply because of the visual storytelling or the notes hit by Auli’i Cravalho later on in the film which has only happened one other time this year and that was with Kubo and the Two Strings. Once the Oscar race actually starts, I’m not sure which one I would pick between both these animated films, but one thing’s for certain, they are terrific films that have earned your money.