Review: MOANA

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By Mark Saldana

Rating: 4 (Out of 4 Stars)

With Moana, Disney has not made just another “princess” tale, they have created a movie rich with culture, vibrant characters, and a story of female empowerment that should inspire girls and young women of all ages.  And because it is a Disney affair, the movie is loaded with delightful comedy, sensational and catchy songs, and legitimately magical cinematic moments.  With the families gathered to celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday this weekend, this is the perfect time to head to the theater and behold this beautiful and majestic masterpiece.

Based on tales from Polynesian folk mythology, Moana tells a story about the young daughter of a Polynesian tribe chief who is destined to save her family and tribe from a terrible drought.  Even as a young toddler Moana (Auli’i Cravalho) longs to explore the ocean; however, as ruled by her father Chief Tui Waialiki (Temuera Morrison), all members of the tribe have been forbidden to travel beyond the reef.  When a harsh drought hits the island, Moana’s grandmother Tala (Rachel House) informs her that the drought has occurred because long ago, the demigod Maui (Dwayne Johnson) has stolen the heart of the goddess Te Fiti.  Tala informs Moana that the ocean has chosen her to travel beyond the reef to where Maui dwells and convince him to return the heart to its proper owner.  This proves no easy task, as Moana has no sailing experience, and the fact that Maui turns out to be an egotistical and stubborn demigod unwilling to complete the task.

Written by Jared Bush, Ron Clements, John Musker, Chris Williams, Don Hall, Pamela Ribon, Aaron, Kandell, Jordan Kandell, and directed by Clements, Hall, Musker, and Williams, Moana is a joyous, thrilling, and thoroughly entertaining family film.  Not following the usual formula of hero versus villain or pure good versus pure evil, the movie tells an adventure story where the challenges come from within in addition to the unforgiving elements encountered in the ocean.  Steeped in Polynesian mythology, the demigod Maui and the other god characters are neither absolute good or absolute evil, they are portrayed as more dimensional characters with flaws identical to the human characters.  This makes for a compelling and fascinating look at humanity with all of our wonderful qualities, along with our flaws due to fear and willfulness.

The filmmakers and their amazing crew have created another gorgeous animated world with the bright and vibrant colors one would expect from the Pacific Islands.  The lovely pallet of colors matches the rich culture of the Polynesians and the beautiful score by Mark Macina celebrates and honors their musical tradition.  Because this is a Disney musical, the movie features an assortment of songs by Opetaia Foa’i and Hamilton’s Lin-Manuel Miranda that will have both children and adults dancing and wanting to sing along.  The film also boasts an amazing cast that brings the movie’s phenomenal characters to life.

Moana features superb voice work by Temuera Morrison, Nicole Scherzinger, and Rachel House as Moana’s family.  From Hawaii, young actress Auli’i Cravalho impresses with her energy and conviction as the title character Moana.  Singer Louise Bush offers her incredible voice for the character’s singing parts.  The standout performance comes from multi-talented Dwayne Johnson who absolutely shines as the demigod Maui.  Johnson brings his natural charisma, wit and singing ability to the character and makes Maui one of Disney’s more exciting and entertaining characters.  His performance is so memorable that I’m sure Maui will soon be considered one of Disney’s more beloved characters.

I also feel that this movie will eventually join the ranks of other beloved Disney classics.  On the surface, Moana may seem like just another “princess” movie, but this Polynesian character has an undeniable spirit, courage and strength that surpasses some of the more dated characters in Disney’s filmography, but fits in perfectly with the more modern and empowered ones.  It is a movie that will encourage and inspire girls and young ladies, and will no doubt, entertain everyone.  It is a movie not to miss this Thanksgiving holiday.

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