Moana Movie Review: A Soon to be Disney Classic

Ever since Disney released “The Princess and the Frog” in 2009, they have had a second golden age of films, resembling the “Beauty and the Beast” and “Lion King” era. “Moana” is Disney’s latest offering, and from the looks of it, Disney is not going to be slowing down with quality films anytime soon.

Set in ancient Polynesia, the movie starts out with Maui, a demi-god, stealing the small green stone, dubbed The Heart of Te Fiti. Once the stone is stolen, a darkness starts encompassing the island. As Maui fails to escape, the darkness gradually starts spreading to other areas of the world. Jumping ahead a thousand years later, the audience is introduced to Moana, an aspiring adventurer and the daughter of the very strict tribal chief. Once the darkness reaches the island where Moana’s tribe resides, Moana goes against the wishes of her father and decides to leave the island so that she can find Maui and use him to restore the Heart of Te Fiti to make the darkness go away.

If for no other reason, every single one of you needs to go see Moana solely on the principle that represents Pacific Islanders. In a massively white-washed and America-washed Hollywood, this film is about a group of people that is almost never represented in cinema. Before anyone says it, movies set in Hawaii do not count, as it is part of the United States. Without using google, list for me five movies that meet the following criteria: the movie is set in the Pacific Islands, the lead character is not white, the events in the movie are not told from the perspective of their relation to the United States, and Pacific Islander culture gets to be portrayed and the audience gets to see how those people actually live. Now that I have stumped you, go on ahead and use Google. I still don’t think you will be able to find 5 films. If you do know of films that meet all of the aforementioned criteria, please leave the titles in the comments, because I would be happy to watch them.
As for the movie itself, there really is nothing new here, save for the movie being about Pacific Islanders. The story as a whole is nothing new and re-hashes plot devices from older Disney movies, although there are a few minor parts that are quite clever. I really liked how Moana resolved the conflict with the villain. There are a couple of side-quests to complete the main quest, and I thought the antagonists of these side-quests were excellent. The concept of blood-thirsty killer coconuts (yes, I’m being 100% serious and yes, you laughed at the thought of it) is absolutely hysterical. Tamatoa the collecting crab is also a delight to watch as he absolutely steals the scene is featured in.

The story as a whole is nothing new and re-hashes plot devices from older Disney movies, although there are a few minor parts that are quite clever. I really liked how Moana resolved the conflict with the villain. There are a couple of side-quests to complete the main quest, and I thought the antagonists of these side-quests were excellent. The concept of blood-thirsty killer coconuts (yes, I’m being 100% serious and yes, you laughed at the thought of it) is absolutely hysterical. Tamatoa the collecting crab is also a delight to watch as he absolutely steals the scene is featured in.

There is also more singing in this movie than I expected, but I was pleasantly surprised with the songs. On a technical level, they have nothing on “Frozen,” but that actually works in the movie’s favor. Instead of having an opera singer showing off her range and having complex melodies, the movie goes for a simpler route and add some fun to its songs. Say what you will about the soundtrack of “Frozen,” one would not use the word “fun” to describe it. Moana’s soundtrack is an absolute blast to listen to, and I could see myself road-tripping and singing along to the soundtrack (which will never happen with “Frozen).” My favorite song is the one sung by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson entitled “You’re Welcome.” I had such a big cheesy grin on my face the entire time while it was going and I still had that grin a solid five minutes after the song ended because it was so amusing.

It has already been established that the movie does a good job representing Pacific Islanders, and this is further helped by the fact that there is only one voice actor in the film who is of primarily Caucasian descent. Alan Tudyk is a household name in motion-capture technology, and this is primarily why he was hired. He is technically a voice actor in the film, but his role in this capacity is minimal and he was hired mostly to do the motion for Heihei, Moana’s pet chicken. Outside of Alan Tudyk, everyone else in the vocal cast on IMDB is multi-racial and hold heritage from the Pacific Islands. Making the cast consist of actors and actresses with Pacific Island descent makes the characters seem far more authentic. In addition to being authentic, all of the voices are excellent and nobody feels like they are out of place. Also a fun fact: former NFL Saftey Troy Polamalu of the Pittsburgh Steelers is a background voice in this movie.

While “Moana” is not the best-animated movie to come out this year (sorry, but I loved Sausage Party on a level I haven’t experienced since I saw “Spaceballs” for the first time), it comes pretty damn close. Not only is Moana a really well-made movie, but it is a lot of fun and more culturally authentic than almost every other movie Hollywood has produced. 9/10 stars, highly recommended.

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