The main thing that makes Moana work is the title character. She is the evolved form of Disney princesses back from the days of Snow White and Cinderella. This princess gets the job done with or without a prince, and that is that. As the character Maui tells Moana, “If you have a dress and a sidekick, you are a princess.” (That chicken sidekick of hers is great because it actually acts like a chicken.)
Credit definitely should be given to the break out performance by first timer Auli’i Cravalho. Certainly, she is a new star for the cinema world to behold. Her Moana is the daughter of Chief Tui (Temuera Morrison), whose main rule is to never leave the island for any reason. No going past the reef”, he says, even when there is a shortage of fish nearby.
Eventually, Moana is moved to leave the island in search of the demigod Maui (Dwayne Johnson, who, as a nineties kid, will forever be “The Rock” to me.) He has stolen a stone that he wished to use and help the humans, but the idea back fired, and he lost his magic hook in the process which gave him the ability to morph into any animal he wishes (his main choice was that of a hawk.)
While Cravalho shows she is a star that is here to stay, it is Johnson’s performance of Maui that reminds us what makes him so gosh darn charming in the first place. Basically, he plays a Disney version of “The Rock” (no threats or swearing). Who else could brag about himself, and actually have conversations with his tattoos (there is even glimpse of him raising the eyebrow that made me smile, ear to ear).
Now we come to the music. Lin-Manuel Miranda is the main mind behind it all, and this was just before his stage musical “Hamilton” (of which I am a fan, and still hope to see someday on stage) became the monster hit it is today. I confess, I think Moana has good songs, but a few too many songs. Most are good, but I did not find the urge I had after seeing a movie like Frozen to go and download the songs from Itunes. There is one song with a crazy crab character that is gorgeous to look at, but drags on too long.
Let there be no doubt: stunning is a gross understatement to the visuals of this movie. While movies like The Little Mermaid and Finding Nemo (and its sequel) proved the wonders beneath the ocean, Moana proves things above the ocean can be visually appealing as well.
Parents, it is a Disney film, so basically anyone can sit through it (there are not too many heavy dark moments in the film).
At the moment, I don’t feel Moana will be in the pantheon of Disney masterpieces such as Fantasia, Pinocchio, The Lion King, Bambi, or Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Still, Moana is, in every sense of the cliché phrase, fun for the whole family.
Overall: Three and a Half Stars *** 1/2