Moana, the newest Disney princess movie, released on November 23 and has already dazzled viewers around the world. The movie centers around the title character Moana, who is being groomed to become her island village’s next chief, but all she wants to do is explore the ocean. This passion is finally put to use when she discovers that she must travel to find the demi-god Maui to restore balance to nature and save her island from ruin.
The movie stars newcomer Auli’i Cravalho as the strong-willed Moana and Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson as Maui, who, yes, can sing very well. The movie was directed by Ron Clements and John Musker, who are seasoned Disney creators and also directed The Little Mermaid and The Princess and the Frog. The music was written by Broadway star Lin-Manuel Miranda, Mark Mancina, and Opetaia Foa’i.
The movie was strong on all points.The story, though heavily inspired by several Polynesian folk tales, was not based on a single fairytale like the past works of Disney, making it one of the only completely original Disney princess movies. The story has something that I’ve only seen done correctly in Inside Out. It is able to encapsulate a complete hero arc as well as an emotional arc. Though they are very similar, the emotional arc is by far more important because it creates a complete story. We are able to see Moana go through extreme highs and extreme lows and we see how she gets through them. Not only is the story satisfying on an emotional level, but the setting is exquisite. Though the setting and culture were not directly based on one Polynesian culture but many, the movie is immersive enough that the audience feels transported to a new world that they have to explore–and that’s only if the audience is not Polynesian. To have a new culture represented in a major movie such as this one gives children of that culture the ability to see themselves as the heroes and believe that they can do everything that a child of a more represented culture, such as western culture, could.
The music was done so well, I listened to the soundtrack again that same day. If you are familiar with Lin-Manuel Miranda’s work, including Hamilton and In the Heights, you can clearly hear his influence in the music, especially in the use of repeating motifs and themes in the lyrics. The use of repeating motifs was able to build the aforementioned emotional arc because it helped show the growth and change in the characters, especially Moana. And that’s without mentioning the talent that Auli’i Cravalho and the Rock have. Cravalho, who is currently sixteen-years-old, has the acting and vocal maturity deserving of Broadway. Even the Rock, who has mostly starred in sports-related family comedies, can sing–and rap!
The animation was absolutely beautiful. Unlike the CGI animated movies that Disney has been producing, this movie felt like art. I have always felt that there is something missing from CGI animated movies because I feel like with the new technology, the goal is to make it seem the most realistic and not interpretive or creative at all. The style and ability of the Disney animators have been increasing since their first major CGI film, Tangled (another favorite of mine), but even with Brave and Frozen, there wasn’t anything particularly special about the look of them. Moana is different because it utilizes both the CGI and 2D animation to its advantage. The 2D animation is mostly seen in the movement of Maui’s magical tattoos and the CGI is used the best on the water and fire. The design of the characters were also very well done. Not one character in the movie is stick-thin and they all had something special to them, Moana’s being her curly hair that often flew around into her face.
The movie is taking the world by storm. It currently has 98% on Rotten Tomatoes and has been shattering box office records ever since it was released. The debate has already begun about which is better: Frozen or Moana? Though I liked Moana more than Frozen, I still love both and I think that the competition is completely unnecessary. Moana is by no means perfect and neither is Frozen. Both are completely worth seeing, but especially Moana.