My rating: 5/5
“I always like to look on the optimistic side of life, but I am realistic enough to know that life is a complex matter. With the laugh comes the tears and in developing motion pictures or television shows, you must combine all the facts of life— drama, pathos, and humor.” -Walt Disney
The Disney company has always focused on delivering the best family-friendly entertainment the movie industry has to offer, and Moana continues that trend. Moana is a fresh, funny, and brilliantly animated film with all the heart, music, and majesty of a Disney classic. It takes a familiar story concept and breathes new life into it with entertaining, three-dimensional characters, some amazing visuals, and the best soundtrack I’ve heard all year.
Moana’s plot concerns the titular character’s journey to reverse a curse caused by a demigod named Maui, who stole an object called the Heart of Te Fiti from its home island. Although it may at first seem like a generic hero’s journey plot, it actually proves to be quite original, adding its own twists and depth to create an entirely new story. Talented voice actors complement intricate character animation, adding up to entertaining, inspired characters with personality to spare. In addition, the Polynesian culture that forms the story’s backdrop doesn’t just stay in the background; it’s an integral part of the plot, characters, visuals, and music. For example, all the actors are Polynesian, there are extended musical sequences entirely in Polynesian, the photorealistic animation makes you feel like you’re really in the Pacific islands, and the whole film feels like a Polynesian myth, with strong integration of Polynesian mythology and culture fully immersing you in its world. Complementing the story, the visuals are spectacular. The cinematography combined with the animation makes some truly beautiful shots that look like they could be framed and put in a museum.
While Moana is masterfully directed and excels on every level, the real star of the film is the music, written by Lin-Manuel Miranda, Opetaia Foa’i, and Mark Mancina. It’s a perfect blend of modern musical and lyrical techniques, traditional Polynesian music, and Disney’s traditional formula, feeling classic and new at the same time. The music perfectly encapsulates and expresses every emotion and story beat, as well as powerfully conveying the majesty and grandeur of the film as a whole.
A refreshingly original take on a time-honored story framework, Moana doesn’t just approximate a Disney classic, it is a Disney classic. In fact, it’s the exact kind of movie that made me love movies in the first place. Disney has always been at the cutting edge of entertainment, and particularly animation, and their best stories have always combined the best artistry that movies have to offer to tell stories that speak to the deepest levels of the human soul. They inspire us to chase our dreams, to never give up, to value friendships, and to bring out the best in each other. They remind us that even though the world is a dark and evil place, good can, and will, always triumph. Moana is an authentic masterpiece that continues that grand storytelling tradition. Walt Disney would be proud.
Release date | November 23, 2016
MPAA Rating | PG (for peril, some scary images, and brief thematic elements)
Director | John Musker & Ron Clements
Distributor | Disney