Disney’s 56th Animated featured Moana treads new ground by combing classical Disney story telling with Polynesian mythology. But is this a gift sent from the heavens or a demi-god destined to toil in the underworld?
Plotting the story of Walt Disney’s animated features is a fascinating journey. From the early golden age of the forties, to the awkward teenage years of the seventies, through to the renaissance of the nineties, and finally into the current ‘revival’ era. With John Lasseter taking the role of creative director in 2007, Disney have seen a resurgence of quality animations; Tangled, Big Hero 6, and Frozen to name a few. Moana has a lot to live up to in a time were one bad Disney film could announce the arrival of a new era.
Despite this commercial pressure it’s clear Moana isn’t afraid. It’s the most unique and original Disney film for years. The film follows the life of a small Polynesian tribe and the chief’s daughter Moana. Chosen by the ocean itself Moana is sent on a journey across the ocean to return a heart stone to a sleeping goddess. Along the way Moana recruits the help of loveable rogue demi-God Maui, voiced by Dwayne Johnson, who looks to fix the wrongs he wrote when he himself stole the heart stone to begin with.
Moana tells a heart-warming story that is polished throughout with the level of quality viewers have come to expect from Disney. The source material is treated with the upmost respect in every form. For example a number of the actors are of Hawaiian dependents, a majority of the songs are written by musicians stemming from films’ locales, and clearly a huge amount of research has gone into every detail to keep the film authenticate. And it pays off. Visually the film is dazzling with it’s tropical islands and shimmering oceans looking stunning. The visual quality of the characters, the landscapes, and the animation are the best that can be seen on film and Moana sets a new gold standard for visual animation.
The strongest aspect of the film though is Moana herself. Her personality is addictive, her story is captivating, and her performance is moving. The emotions’ she portrays in the film make you wonder whether Best Actor Oscars can be given to Disney Animators who breath life into these polygons. Over the course of the film Moana grows and leaves us with a memorable character that sits amongst the best of Disney’s protagonists.
But sadly the supporting players aren’t as strong. Maui himself misses the mark slightly and at times feels like a poor mans Genie. And being that the vast majority of the film is Moana and Maui together it can be uncomfortable at times.
Set pieces in the film as well can be very hit and miss. One particular scene with a horde of pirate coconuts feels oddly out of place and over very quickly. But then twenty minutes later we’re introduced to a giant crab Tamatoa voiced by Jermaine Clements in a surreal but throughly enjoyable sequence with a song that’s bound to stick in your mind for days after.
It’s no coincidence the greatest Disney films also have the greatest musical numbers. And thankfully Moana delivers in this area. Songs such as ‘You’re Welcome’, ‘We Know the Way’, and ‘Where You Are’ are catchy but also fit perfectly into the style of the film.
Despite some of it’s shortcomings Moana is still a fantastic film. It almost feels unfair to even place the film in the same category of cinema as other animating offerings in 2016 such as Trolls, The Angry Birds Movie, or Storks. But in the world of Disney it doesn’t feel like Moana is going to go down as a family classic that sits in the blu-ray player for Christmas’ to come. It’s a Brave, it’s a Mulan, it’s an Emperors New Groove. It absolutely deserves to be critically acclaimed because even when Disney miss the mark slightly they still manage to be the best in their field. Moana is a treasure. But sadly it’s one that will likely sink to the ocean floor and be forgotten over time.