Although not the first ethnic Disney leading lady, (and certainly not the first female to take charge and become independent) there is something about Moana (Voice of newcomer Aul’i Cravalho) that makes her an inspiration to young girls like the few who have come before her. Much like Merida from ‘Brave’, she is a free spirit who longs for adventure and can be a bit stubborn. Comparing her to Mulan from the movie of the same name, and Princess Anna from ‘Frozen’, she is determined to reach her goal and do what’s right even if the impossible tries stopping her. She is the leading lady that all the girls in the audience should look up to. (Disney is full of these women, trust me.) I say leading lady, because she does not like to be acknowledged as a princess. (Which, in turn, leads to a very clever satirical joke by Dwayne Johnson’s demigod Maui regarding the stereotype.)
Moana lives on the island of Moltunui with her family and the rest of the happy villagers, until something happens to their food portions; which may be the result of a years-old curse placed on the Pacific. This causes Moana to seek adventure with her pet pig, and chicken, which she names Heihei, (Voice of Alan Tudyk [Man, that guy is talented and I could mistake him for Frank Welker one day!]) in order to find Maui, who was the cause of the curse and restore balance to the Pacific Ocean. Once she finds the demigod, it turns out that he is more of a self-centered egomaniac way too full of himself to let anyone else join him than just a powerful shape-shifter and so-called “Hero”. There is no one who could get into the role better than Dwayne Johnson.
‘Moana’ is Johnson’s second voice-over role for an animated feature and the first since ‘Planet 51’. (I haven’t seen that one.) With the character of Maui, Johnson really has a lot of fun with the role. I almost didn’t pay heed that it was the former WWE wrestler/current action-and-comedy star/now proclaimed “World’s Sexiest Man.” I was hearing on the big screen; I also was impressed with his vocal talent when it came to singing Maui’s signature song “You’re Welcome” when he is talking about all the things he has done to keep the islands safe from destruction. I also need to mention that ‘Moana’ is a musical. (We should know this by now!)
When it comes to Disney movies with a female lead, we should expect some singing and dancing from our characters. The songs – written by Opetaia Foa’i, ‘Hamilton’s Lin-Manuel Miranda, and Mark Mancina – are thrilling and add to the rush of the navigation sequences, the calm of the beautiful blue sea, and the fun of a Disney musical; even if the ‘Frozen’ soundtrack is more memorable. (Why wouldn’t it be?! It’s been playing on the radio stations since ‘Frozen’ got over-hyped!) One flaw I could see as being major is how ‘Moana’ is a by-the-numbers Disney animated feature from beginning to end. You have an epic intro, a heroine that is set to save the world and change her destiny, conflict between two leads, an epic PG-territory climax, and an ending where everyone lives happily ever after. If it wasn’t for its animation however, I wouldn’t have overlooked its flaw.
‘Moana’ is Disney’s most beautiful film ever made, and the background/locations show. This is a colorful and amazing beauty of a movie which the animators have dedicated their time to making. Almost every detail is on point. You can feel the breeze of the air as well as the cool flow of the water. The animation of the sky also helps with the tone of the movie as we feel each emotion of the characters.
‘Moana’ is definitely one of the best animated movies of the year since ‘Zootopia’, which I could easily see it going up against during the Oscars next year. Since these two are Disney movies, one is either going to be overlooked, or it’s definitely going to be a tough decision for the Academy because both films have something going for it. (‘Zootopia’ with social commentary’, and ‘Moana’ reaching a new height in detailed animation.) ‘Moana’ is definitely a breath of fresh air, both literally and figuratively.