Inspired by the oral stories of the people, and cultures of the Oceania region, Moana follows a young girl who wants to venture beyond the reef and save her community. Moana, an adventurous 16-year-old princess becomes convinced that her people can survive an impending natural disaster by going back to their explorer roots, but her father Chief Tui forbids any venturing into the deep seas. Taking off on her own, Moana decides it is her mission to bring demigod Maui (Dwayne Johnson) to heel and return a precious stone to where it belongs.
In parts super-cute and in others full of stunning vistas, directors Ron Clements and John Musker recalled paintings from their youth for the look of the film. Moana, voiced by Auli‘i Carvalho, is a confident central character we see grow up from wobbly toddler to go-getting teenager. Maui is covered in moving tribal ink and the filmmakers even manage to give the waves of the ocean a life of their own too. The combination of styles make for an impressive, visually captivating film.
All Disney animations now come with a short film beforehand. There is often a link to the feature itself, although Inner Workings deserves to be seen on its own merits. It’s a simple story, reminiscent of Inside Out, where a disenchanted office worker is forced to balance the wants of his heart with the rationale of his head. Unlike some other shorts, this one doesn’t really need expanding. It’s a charming mini-slice of fun that adults will enjoy even more than the kids.
Much of the humour in Moana comes from Maui, the arrogant demigod who is the reason for much of the misery in the film. Dwayne Johnson brings his own larger-than-life persona to the character, but is mindful to not dominate proceedings. Moana is more than a match for him, and the pair spark off one another to great effect. The dumb chicken, who accompanies Moana and Maui on their task is less effective though…
Much has been made of the message behind the film. Prior to release, there was some criticism of the portrayal of the pacific communities in the movie. The story itself is more subtle than previously thought, and moreover is about a strong female character standing up for herself and her beliefs. As Disney princesses go, Moana is one of the best thanks to her never-give-up attitude and unwillingness to surrender her principles.
The ‘Mad Max: Fury Road’ reference
One of my favourite bits of Moana comes halfway through the film when Moana and Maui run into the Kakamora, a tribe of diminutive pirates who don coconut armour and attempt to steal the precious stone at the heart of the story. This fantastic sequence has obvious nods to Mad Max: Fury Road, with the look of the armada as well as a pulsating soundtrack accompaniment instantly recalling George Miller’s dystopian action film of 2015.
‘SHINY!’ THE BEST SONG OF THE YEAR!
Giant magical hermit crab Tomatoa is voiced by Flight of the Conchords star Jemaine Clement. It’s a hilarious cameo appearance which steals the film thanks to the best musical moment of 2016. We’ve tried to get the infuriatingly catchy ‘Shiny’ out of our heads, but the earworm has burrowed itself deep into our brains. Come on Disney, release the soundtrack already!
Moana will be released in late 2016