Moana isn’t your typical Disney princess.
In fact, despite being the daughter of the village chief, having an animal sidekick and occasionally breaking out into song, even Moana (Auli’i Cravalho) herself insists that she is not a princess. Originally, I thought Disney was trying to make Moana the newest installment in the Disney princess franchise, but it appears they’re trying to mix it up a bit by providing an animated young female who doesn’t have to be a princess and doesn’t have to have a love interest to be a heroine.
The film is reminiscent of Pocahontas with its focus on heritage and mythology; the story places a heavy emphasis and theme on mythological Hawaiian island gods and demigods, perhaps Disney’s most religious-oriented film to date. In fact, this focus is almost a little unsettling for an animated movie.
The story is a journey, typical of a Disney animated tale with a young girl simply trying to “follow her heart.” She’s smart, capable, encouraging and independent — a heroine who does not incessantly complain about the problems of her situation before attempting to fix them; rather, she solves them by initiating the action herself.
On this journey, its beginning and its end are its strong points. The story seems to get a little lost in the middle, especially when the quite odd and unlovable coconut-pirates come into play, but it finds itself again with the fiery ending and Moana and Maui finally working together as a team.
Speaking of Maui, he’s not quite as lovable a character as Moana. Even after his heroism at the end, it still feels difficult to trust him after he’s abandoned Moana so many times, thinking only of himself. However, at the same time, this works, as it shows an improvement in character dimension and doesn’t force Moana to have a prince.
The animation is stunning (especially the magical stingray), and while I doubt any of the songs will take off like Frozen’s “Let It Go” did, the songs are beautifully composed, particularly Moana’s personal ballad “How Far I’ll Go.” Grammy-winning lyricist/composer Lin-Manuel Miranda, of the smash-hit Broadway play Hamilton, composed the songs for Moana.
Yes, Moana is an admirable heroine and is quite an improvement in the “strong, independent female” animated genre. Nevertheless, Moana still “needs” a man . . . or demi-god . . . to help her save the day in the end when Maui comes to her rescue. Disney is on the right track though
Moana is a stellar flick; it’s family friendly, has some catchy tunes and has a heroine that’s more than charming. It’s not Disney’s best — not exceeding Frozen or Zootopia. However, that’s not to say Moana isn’t a good film; it will still likely make its way as Disney royalty as it’s an animated movie all ages can enjoy. Disney takes a step forward with the film’s slight touch of realism, at least with the characters’ personas, while not losing the magical touch in which Disney is known for.
Overall, Moana is a solid 3/4 and is definitely a worthwhile film to check out over the holidays.
Photo courtesy of Walt Disney Pictures