Moana (Mo-Ah-Na) has many things going for it. The cast is almost entirely people of color and more specifically the race of the characters depicted in the film (Pacific Islander). The songs are lovely and some will be stuck in your head for weeks to come. The visuals are gorgeous with certain moments leaving my jaw dropped. The only problem, there is not enough of any of it.
From Disney Animation Studios, Moana is the next motion picture to follow the disney princess formula. Rather than being raised to marry a prince, she is being raised to become the next chief of her father’s tribe. The only problem is that she does not want that. She wants to explore the ocean and what lies beyond the shores of her island. After attempting to run away on a raft and nearly drowning, her grandmother teaches Moana of the history of their tribe and reveals that they were once Voyagers, traveling from Island to Island exploring the ocean. But that ended when a mischievous demigod named Maui stole the heart of the sea from a god which released darkness into the world and made the ocean too dangerous to explore anymore. However this darkness begins to destroy the island, so Moana must travel by boat to find Maui and make him return the heart to its rightful place.
The strongest part of the film is the animation itself. The water, sand, and landscapes are stunning. There is a moment when Moana brushes her hand through the water that left me shocked. The water was so realistic looking and beautiful that I struggled to remember it was animation. Even some of the character designs were fresh and exciting. Maui is interesting to look at. As far as I recall this is the first Disney sidekick to have a full body of tattoos the way Maui has and the fact that are magical make it all the better. If I were to make one complaint with the animation it would be that the characters and the backgrounds contrasted in quality. When Pixar began working on Finding Nemo, their first version of the background was actually so realistic that they had to backpedal and make it look more cartoonish so that it would match the cartoony design of their characters. I feel this needed to be done in Moana as well.
The songs were very enjoyable, most of which was created by Lin-Manuel Miranda who is most noted for his semi-recent musical hit, Hamilton. The songs are fun and enjoyable, Maui’s song “You’re Welcome” will be sung by kids and grownups alike for months to come, think of it as the new Hakuna Matata. The only song I did not care for was one of the villain songs “Shiny” sung by Jemaine Clement. While I love Clement’s works outside of this film like in Flight of the Conchords, I felt this song to be very out of place and rather strange.
However above all of this was one problem that is still troubling me. While I loved a lot about this film, unfortunately there just was not enough of it. There are only five songs in the film and while they are good I really wanted to hear more. For what the story was, it was cute and enjoyable. But it felt like it was maybe a first or second draft and had not achieved the brilliance it seemed to come very close to doing. The characters were cool but we did not learn much about them. Finally the villain in the end did not seem to have much purpose other than a reveal that I felt could have been handled differently. Speaking of which parents should know that while I was in the theater and having spoken to parents afterward, the monster in the end of the film is rather scary and while I don’t think this is cause to avoid the film all together it should be noted that if your child scares easily this monster will probably freak them out.
In conclusion, for what Moana is it is perfectly fine. There is nothing necessarily wrong with what the final product is, I was just left wanting more on all aspects of the film. I hope Disney will continue to branch out of their traditional formula and create new stories, and for what the movie is any family can go to the movies and enjoy this film with very little worry.
I give Moana a 3 stars out of 5.
That being said, here are links to Moana Freebies we shared: