Leave it to Disney to help alleviate some of the turmoil felt throughout America since the Election Day results with an animated sea-journeying epic. Moana has all the makings of a classic 90s animated Disney movie – it includes a wonderful coming-of-age story, heartfelt characters, beautiful animation, and a memorable original soundtrack. If you’re looking for a two-hour escape with the family to try and get away from all the outside noise from the past couple of strenuous weeks, look no further. Family movies don’t get any better than Moana, which is easily the best family movie of the year.
An adventurous teenager sails out on a daring mission to save her people. During her journey, Moana meets the once-mighty demigod Maui, who guides her in her quest to become a master way-finder. Together they sail across the open ocean on an action-packed voyage, encountering enormous monsters and impossible odds. Along the way, Moana fulfills the ancient quest of her ancestors and discovers the one thing she always sought: her own identity.
Moana’s titular heroine’s stubbornness is as ambitious as her dreams of venturing off the island where she and her family live. Moana isn’t your typical Disney princess, who appears strong-willed and bent on self-discovery of what she is meant to do. In Moana, there are no charming princes or villainous ghouls with evil laughs. And while Moana’s beats feel as familiar as any other Disney movie, it’s just fine because everything we see on screen is done masterfully and pays great respect to the movie’s Polynesian cultural roots. Along the way, Moana comes face to face with plenty of amusing characters, including a demigod, a greedy crab, and pirate coconuts called the Kakamora, who deserve their own spin-off. All of these characters are not only hilarious, but also distinguished in their own ways.
Moana’s voice cast is headlined by two actors. Dwayne Johnson (Fast Five), voices the demigod Maui, a shapeshifter whose arrogance is the reason Moana must set sail in order to save the people on her island. Johnson is perfectly suited to voice Maui, who is muscular and sports tattoos all over his body. (Said tattoos move in relation to the events in the movie and deliver some of the movie’s best laughs.) Not only is Dwayne great as the voice of Maui, but he is surprisingly good when he lends his voice to some of Moana’s musical numbers. Johnson is one-upped in voicing, however, by new-comer Aulil’i Cravalho, who voices Moana. Like any other Disney princess before, Cravalho voices the heroine with excitement and energy, delivering on every musical tune she leads. Singing some of the best original songs in Moana, it’s clear that Cravalho is a star in the making.
As far as animation goes, Moana’s is beautiful. Whether it’s water motion, whether Moana is on the open sea or exploring the various luscious landscapes, the animation is detailed and handled with care in relation to its inspiration coming from the Pacific Islands. The result is the best water motions in an animated movie to date. Moana features an original soundtrack from the mind of Lin-Manuel Miranda (Hamilton: An American Musical), which is memorable and without a doubt will be one of the best-selling albums of the year. Miranda’a tunes express a wide range of emotions from daily activities to the personal aspirations the characters want to achieve. All of which is done in prototypical classic Disney fashion, something the studio has been missing in years past (minus Frozen). Moana is a sure bet to receive an Oscar nomination for Best Animated Movie and a number of these songs could wind up being nominated for Best Original Song.
A featurette that has been playing in front of movie audiences across the country for the past few weeks has shown Dwayne Johnson promoting Moana. In the featurette, Johnson says that Disney features “the greatest storytellers in the world.” And he is correct. Disney has proved over and over again that they can have you leaving the theater with a smile on your face. And right now, we could all use some cheering up after being so divided the past few weeks. So why not make that happen with Moana and Lin-Manuel’s catchy musical tunes?