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Moana Movie Review

“If you wear a dress and have an animal sidekick, you’re a princess.” These words, coming from demigod Maui in Disney’s latest animated adventure Moana, captured what Disney must’ve been grappling with in the making of the movie. While still keeping what makes Disney movies work- catchy soundtracks, a leading young female with some kind of noble lineage, and state-of-the-art animation- Moana attempts to break away from the princess motif.

Moana isn’t technically a princess- she’s the tribal chief’s daughter. On an island in Polynesia, Moana is warned by her father to never go beyond the reef that surrounds their island in a Simba/Mufasa fashion (minus the traumatizing parental death). Moana is drawn to what lies just beyond the horizon, and soon learns that her people were once voyagers who sailed all across the ocean, discovering new islands. When treacherous seas befell the navigators, Moana’s ancestors decided to never again leave their own island.

When famine strikes Moana’s people, she sails out following the advice of her grandmother. To restore order to the island, she must return an ancient, magical sea stone- “the heart of Te Fiti”- to its goddess owner. As Moana journeys across the Pacific with her delightfully stupid pet chicken sidekick, she seeks the help of a demigod with a bad habit of mansplaining- the legendary Maui (voiced by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson).

Keeping with the spirit of its recent predecessors, Moana seeks to break away from the princess movie stereotypes. Most apparent, there’s zero romance- Moana and Maui interact much more like quarrelsome siblings. Not only is Moana drawn proportionately, but true to the humid air of Polynesia, her mermaid hair is not always perfect. There’s singing (the music was mostly courtesy of Lin-Manuel Miranda), but surprisingly many of the songs just repeat themselves in reprisals. While the music was fitting, it wasn’t the best Disney has ever done. It was catchy and beautiful where it needed to be, but there won’t be any Oscars won for original song here. One of the music scenes, “Shiny” for those of you already looking up the soundtrack, was like an odd, Disney acid trip. The best part of the music was Moana herself, thanks to her voice actress. Fifteen-year-old Hawaiian native Auli’i Cravalho’s raw talent shined throughout the film.

So what’s the stand-out aspect of the movie that makes it so obviously Disney? The animation. I’m no artist, but I do appreciate the ocean, and the tropical sunset colors and sparkling blue Pacific waters created by the Disney CGI animators made a 2-D movie appear to be 3-D without the glasses (note some screenings of Moana will be in 3-D). I wouldn’t be surprised if Hawaiian tourism sees a great spike after Moana’s release.

Moana is funny throughout, and it’s setting alone makes it stand out among other Disney films. While it doesn’t make the cut of being one of my favorite Disney films (granted, that’s an elite category), Moana has every necessary factor to be an instant Disney classic. Out of four stars, it’s a solid three and a half.

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