Screenplay by Jared Bush, with story by Ron Clements, John Musker, Chris Williams, Don Hall, Pamela Ribon, Aaron Kandell and Jordan Kandell
Directed by Ron Clements and John Musker, co-directed by Don Hall and Chris Williams
Starring Alui’i Cravalho, Dwayne Johnson, Rachel House, Temuera Morrison, Jermaine Clement and more
Grade: Four stars
There are some movies I love so much that I have to resist grabbing everyone I run across and urging them to go have the same wonderful cinematic experience I just did.
“Moana,” the latest by Disney, is one of those movies. A magical, empowering, fun, meaningful adventure that manages to be utterly universal while still shining a powerful light on a largely ignored culture, “Moana” is Disney at its absolute best.
The animation is gorgeous, the voice acting is spot-on, the storytelling is powerful and the humor is perfectly balanced. If Disney movies, girl-power movies or adventure movies are even slightly to your taste, this is one you don’t want to miss.
The movie follows Moana, the daughter of a Polynesian chieftain whose people stay firmly on their island or in the nearby waters located within the boundaries of a reef. Moana, however, has always been drawn on the open ocean, and the ocean itself seems quite fond of her. When a spreading darkness threatens to harm her home and her people, Moana must brave a journey across the seas to find a lost demigod and restore the balance.
The movie beautifully executes its own balancing act, hitting the sweet zone when it comes to just the right amount of cheering, tears, laughter and breathless moments. You’ll get choked up, but the movie earns whatever tears it gets out of you, and the humor is bountiful and comes from a variety of sources (my favorite is the chicken, Heihei, with chicken sounds provided by Disney’s newest good-luck charm Alan Tudyk). There’s also the faintest sprinkling of self-aware humor, never enough to take away from the story but definitely worth an extra chuckle.
Moana, voiced by newcomer Auli’i Cravalho, is an absolute treat. She’s spunky and thoughtful at the same time, equally aware of both her dreams and her responsibilities. She’s also allowed to be both a little silly and wonderfully brave, full of nuance thanks to both Cravalho and the animators. Once the movie comes out, I hope she gets little girls all over the world looking up to her.
Dwayne Johnson is charming as the demigod Maui, who has his own lessons to learn. He has a sentient tattoo who operates as his Jiminy Cricket, and the movie allows you to see his struggles and pain while still getting plenty of humor out of his swagger and bluster. The rest of the cast is equally excellent, and most are of Polynesian descent. The ocean is its own character, and all the credit in the world goes to the animators for injecting so much personality into something that doesn’t have a face or limbs.
The rest of the animation is utterly beautiful as well, from the individual hairs to the vast dome of the night sky. The movie plays with glowing/neon colors in some key moments that I promise I won’t spoil for you, but the results are absolutely stunning.
The soundtrack is as wonderful as the rest of the package, and the one bad thing about getting to see the movie early is that I couldn’t immediately rush home and buy every single one of the songs. Lin Manuel Miranda, who recently rocketed to fame with “Hamilton,” and Opetia Foa’i, a well-known Samoan musician, collaborated with others to create a collection of songs that will leave you humming all the way home.
So consider this the more polite version of me grabbing all of you by the front of your shirts and urging you to go see this movie. It’ll be some of the best hours you’ve ever spent in a theater.