We’ve seen Disney start to subvert their own tropes, beginning with the “You can’t marry a man you just met!” line in Frozen, and continuing with quite a few “I can’t believe they just said that in a Disney movie” moments in Zootopia. Now watch them turn their own clichés completely upside down with the incredible story of Moana, a new generation of Disney princess.
We are introduced to our main character, Moana Waialiki, as a precocious toddler who loves the ocean. As Moana grows up over the course of a jazzy music number, we learn that as the daughter of the island’s chieftain, she’s next in line to take over and lead her people. Torn between her need to explore beyond the boundaries of her home island – which is completely forbidden – and her duty to her tribe, it seems like Moana just has to quell her restlessness and accept her fate. That is, until she learns the story of Maui, the trickster demi-god who stole the heart of the creator of life Te Fiti and cursed the world. So she sets off on a grand adventure to find him and save her island by restoring the heart.
While the basic story might play off like a typical Disney lone-hero journey movie, the richness and surprising depth definitely set it apart. There’s no mention of princes for our princess (who despises that term, by the way), the only love interest for Moana is the ocean. For a change, there are no helpless females that need rescuing – the only thing that needs rescuing is Moana’s island, and she’s the girl on a mission to do it. Single-handedly if need be.
Moana’s independence is shown as a strength, and I can’t tell you how refreshing it is to see a Disney female lead that doesn’t need to be tamed to make her palatable. Moana might learn and mature on her journey, but her incredible determination is what drives the story forward. Feistily voiced by newcomer Auli’i Cravalho, who gives Moana a sense of both reckless youth and strength of character, this latest Disney
princess daughter-of-the-chief has definitely broken the mould.
Playing the comedic foil to Moana’s determined frankness is Dwayne Johnson as Maui. He’s as reckless as Moana, as high spirited and as stubborn, but for completely selfish reasons. However, Maui injects energy into every scene he’s in, and Johnson steals the show by heartily belting out Maui’s signature tune, “You’re Welcome”, which was as unexpected as it was delightful.
The rest of the characters might have minor roles, but all bring something to the table. From the dumbest chicken in the history of chickens, Hei Hei (voiced by Alan Tudyk) to the monstrous Tamatoa (voiced by Jemaine Clement), a kleptomaniac crab who gets to sing a sassy number reminiscent of Bowie.
The musical numbers might not reach the same dizzying popularity of Frozen’s “Let It Go”, which is great news for parents, but they’re still very catchy and entertaining. Penned by Hamilton’s Lin-Manuel Miranda, all the usual types of Disney songs are present, complete with Moana’s girl-power anthem in the form of “How Far Will I Go”.
However, all of this is almost eclipsed by the simply breath-taking visuals. The world that directors Ron Clements and John Musker have built is astounding in its vibrant detail. Characters are designed with loving detail against an astonishing background of bright islands and sparkling oceans, which pop with colour and personality.
Clements and Musker even went so far as to recruit experts from across the South Pacific to form an Oceanic Story Trust, who consulted on the film’s cultural accuracy and sensitivity. Everything from the lifestyle of the islanders, their dress and their music and even their movements, is painstakingly rendered to be as natural as possible. You’d be forgiven completely if you let the story fade into the background as you lose yourself in this lush world.
Between the sublime visuals, the moving story, the fully realised characters and the catchy songs, there’s a lot to love about Moana. Above all though, it’s the fact that Moana is her own heroine. She’s a strong, self-aware and incredibly unique character, and is by far the most realistic Disney princess to date.
Last Updated: November 28, 2016