A long time ago, a demi-god by the name of Maui (Dwayne Johnson) stole the heart of Te Fiti, a small green stone, for his own greedy purpose. By taking the stone, the balance of water and nature became disrupted and the great lava monster Te Ka arose to spread death and disease throughout the world. Of all the islands, and of all the people, a small girl on the island of Motunui was given a sign by the spirit of the ocean telling her that she will be the one to return the heart of Te Fiti one day. This girl’s name was Moana (Auli’i Cravalho) and as she grew up, her grandmother told her about life before the evils of Te Ka and how her people use to live. Knowing she had the courage and desire to take on the challenge, Monoa knew she must seek out Maui if she was going to restore balance to the world.
In typical Disney fashion, Moana is full of beautiful animation, vibrant colors, crazy characters and well-orchestrated songs. It doesn’t come out and say it directly, but the setting of this film is in the area of the Hawaiian islands and it shines through in spades. The water, tropical landscapes, mountains, volcanos, and ways of the people all scream Samoan heritage and Hawaiian culture. I’m always a sucker for this kind of setting and it doesn’t disappoint one bit.
Besides the animation, the characters in this movie are superb. The Rock and newcomer Auli’i Cravalho are charming and funny. The Rock’s signature style can be seen directly through Maui and Moana is a well-rounded and realistic youthful soul. Without these 2, this movie might be a dud. There are some other side characters, however, that actually were aspects of the film I didn’t care for. Mainly the crab monster and the stupid chicken seemed to be pointless and characters that didn’t fit the feel of the movie. I know this is an adventure, but couldn’t they have come up with something better than that crab? He was just odd and could have been easily changed. The stupid sidekick chicken was just that – stupid. Usually Disney sidekicks (think Flounder, Abu, Timon and Pumbaa) have a purpose along with comedic relief and I felt that chicken was just there to be stupid. I would have gladly welcomed anything else. I also had mixed feeling about Maui’s interactive tattoos and how it acted as a living character. It isn’t as big a deal, but I just felt it was weird.
The story of Moana had to grow on me. I will warn you right now that you really need to pay attention to the first 5 minutes of the movie when they tell you about the Heart of Te Fiti, Maui, and the Lava monster Te Ka. It was a little difficult to follow since the names aren’t ones I’m use to so make sure you pay attention! As the story moved on, I started to like it more and more. There were a few parts I could have done without (the giant crab scene, the coconut pigmy fight), but the ending is what pulled me into the positive for good. Unlike the ending to Frozen (which I was lackluster about), Moana’s ending is special and something I didn’t see coming. The movie was about a 6-7 before the last 20 minutes, but the ending turned this movie into a solid 8 for me.
There is one last thing I wanted to mention, and that is the personification of the ocean and how it helps Moana throughout her journey. I often thought to myself, if the ocean is so helpful and wants to see Moana succeed, why doesn’t it just take her beyond Te Ka? It’s kinda the same idea as in The Little Mermaid when Ariel could just write to Eric who she is and how her voice was taken. It’s kinda the same idea as in Aladdin when Jasmine could have been the one to free the Genie. I know it would make too much sense and prevent the story from being interesting, but I couldn’t help but think that if the Ocean really wanted the Heart of Te Fiti in its rightful place, it could do it by itself…
I want to mention as well that I really enjoyed the animated short that preceded this movie. I’m a nurse and this short was about a man and how his organs (brain, heart, stomach, bladder) controlled his day to day life. It was funny and relatable! I liked it. As for Moana, at the end of the day, this movie is another home run in the Disney vault and she is a welcomed new Disney Princess (I have a young daughter). I liked it more than Frozen, even if the songs aren’t as catchy, but I’m sure they will grow on me. Can’t wait to see it again with my little one. Co-starring the voices of Jemaine Clement, Nicole Scherzinger, Rachel House, Temuera Morrison, Troy Polamalu, and Alan Tudyk.
8/10 Stars – There are a few minor things I would have changed, but over all, Moana is well-rounded story with beautiful animation and charming characters.