FILM REVIEW - MOANA
Running Length: 113 minutes
Release Date: 2nd December 2016
Directed by: Ron Clements, John Musker
Cast: Auli’I Cravalho, Dayne Johnson, Rachel House, Temuera Morrisson
Screenplay by: Jared Bush
Cinematography: Rob Dressel (Layout), Adolph Lusinsky (Lighting)
The Rock sings. The Rock really shouldn't.
Disney Animation has been gradually moving away from its traditional house style since The Princess and the Frog back in 2009. Now the line differentiating a Disney movie from a Pixar movie gets thinner with every passing year. It’s sad but you can’t stop progress. A more welcome change is Disney’s deliberate move away from the notion that female characters have to be distressed damsels waiting to marry and dancing to the beat of the male hero. With Moana, the princess gets another update, and Disney gives us one of their more aspirational role models. So, shut doors and open windows and all that.
Moana (Auli’I Cravalho) is heir to the throne of an island-dwelling Polynesian tribe. The open sea holds a strong pull for the young adventure-seeker, but Moana’s father (Temuera Morrisson) has forbidden any travel beyond the island’s waters to preserve his tribe’s blissful isolation. When the crops begin to fail and fishing harvests dry up, Moana has a dream vision and discovers that the drought is the result of an incident that occurred a thousand years ago when a demigod called Maui (Dwayne Johnson) stole the heart of the Earth goddess Tehiti with his magical fishing hook. Now Moana must find the banished Maui and persuade him to return the heart – which is now a magic pebble – to the goddess before crops rot and her people starve. Got it? Good.
The movie takes a good while to get going with the first 20 land-locked minutes a bit of a chore. But once Moana takes to the sea the pace picks up quickly and the movie goes from one stand-out sequence to another. Jemaine Clement channelling David Bowie as a giant day-glo crab is a mid-point highlight. The backdrop visuals are spectacular throughout, with one exquisitely rendered paradise landscape more jaw-dropping than the next.
The voice talent is equally impressive, and the young newcomer Cravalho gives it plenty of gusto as the headstrong Moana. The real breakout star is the boss-eyed idiot Heihei (“voiced” by Alan Tudyk), possibly the dumbest chicken ever committed to screen. The Artist Formerly Known as “Rock “was the perfect choice for the narcissistic Maui. Johnson has plenty of proven comic muscle, with enough self-awareness to send up his meat head persona. But then there’s the singing.
Full disclosure: Given the chance, I would gleefully impose a blanket ban on all singing in movies (unless it’s a Muppet doing the singing. Kermit gets a free pass). Singing in movies is just plain weird. But setting personal bias aside, there is nothing here to match the inescapable “Let It Go”. The songs of Moana – including a couple written by Hamilton’s Lin-Manuel Miranda – come thick and fast, but each and every one of them is distinctly underwhelming. It’s unlikely that anyone will be humming these tunes within an hour of leaving the cinema.
Moana probably won’t replicate the success of Frozen, but it’s a pleasant enough story of a young woman finding her way in the world. Right on.