Auli’i Cravalho, Dwayne Johnson, Jemaine Clement, Temuera Morrison
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Moana is Disney at its dreamy, catchy, heart-bursting best.
Sometimes picked on for being too white, and at other times harangued for being too male, Disney have delivered a major one-two response with their latest animated opus, Moana, which boasts not only a female lead, but also the setting of ancient Polynesia, meaning that all of the characters are effectively people of colour. It’s a nice touch from Disney, but it’s hardly the best thing about Moana. Floating on a collection of brilliant Frozen-level ear-worms that will rattle around your brain for days afterwards, this is one of the most lusciously animated efforts to come out of The Mouse House in years. Moana has a look and feel all of its own: crystalline waters lap against golden sands in a true picture of paradise, establishing a mood of pure wonderment right from the start.
Playing effectively with myth and legend, Moana follows the eponymous island princess (nicely voiced by first time actor, Auli’i Cravalho), who must bravely leave her homeland and head off onto the high seas in search of the demigod, Maui, who holds the key to stopping the curse that threatens to destroy her home. Thus, the classic hero’s journey begins (complete with a bizarre chicken sidekick), but when Moana meets Maui (voiced with infectious energy and perfect comic timing by Dwayne Johnson), he’s not exactly what she was expecting. Settling amusingly into a “mismatched buddies” trope, the pair bicker and one-up each other until they finally find a little mutual respect, and then ultimately genuine friendship.
The unlikely connection between Moana and Maui – two damaged souls with plenty of fears lurking beneath their surface bravado – is the core of what makes this already enormous hit so engaging, but there’s plenty more on offer too. The scenes of high seas adventure are riveting, while the sense of mythology is appropriately vast, and the depiction of Polynesian life is a refreshing one for animated cinema. There are also a host of show stopping musical numbers, with Dwayne Johnson’s “You’re Welcome” as funny as it is catchy, and Jemaine Clement’s (as a narcissistic giant sea crab) performance of the David Bowie-esque “So Shiny” nothing short of breathtaking. Moana is Disney at its dreamy, catchy, heart-bursting best.