Moana (2016) Review

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First of all, when this movie was announced two years ago (I think), I was excited. I saw some designs of Moana and I immediately got even more excited because it seemed like the care going into this film was going to be extreme in a good way. Then they announced Dwayne Johnson’s character and design which I thought was cool, then when they casted for Moana, I was even more excited because not only is she an actual teenager but she is a person of color!! Then, as I fell down the Hamilton rabbit hole, I realized that Lin-Manuel Miranda was collaborating on the music which got me even more excited… so I was a bundle of excitement.
Summary: In Ancient Polynesia, when a terrible curse incurred by Maui reaches an impetuous Chieftain’s daughter’s island, she answers the Ocean’s call to seek out the demigod to set things right.
Pros:
Cast and Characters.
Auli’i Cravalho as Moana. This is her first film but she comes off like a pro in her voice acting. So the voice acting for Moana is wonderful, we don’t really know how old Moana is but it’s safe to say she is a teenager, a curious, adventurous teenager and Cravalho is able to maintain this strength in the character even if she’s unsure. When she’s being forceful especially towards Maui, you can hear the nerves as she is trying to be strong. You can hear her emotion, her sadness, her happiness and excitement. Her struggle within herself with her duties back home but her love for the sea is so evident in her voice that she pulls you right into the character. Moana herself is a well written heroine, she reminded me of Mulan in terms of her actions but I think she stands on her own as a Disney heroine (notice I didn’t say princess). She is the daughter of the chief, which makes her the heir to their tribe and she must prepare to take on her role but her spirit is called to the sea and she struggles with that. I think that is handled so well with her character and the way it is pulled together… oh yeah.
Dwayne Johnson as Maui. I love Dwayne Johnson and he is so funny with this character. His voice is so smooth but it also comes off condescending and arrogant at times which is perfect for this character. When Maui sings, you can tell that Johnson had a great time recording, it shows in the song. He clearly had a great time with his character overall. Now Maui as a character, was partly not what I was expecting, I should have known though because it’s Disney. The way he’s portrayed in the trailers and what not, I had a different idea of him compared to what was on screen, which was fine. I liked it. I think his arc is pretty great.
Rachel House as Grandma Tala. She was great, she is Moana’s grandmother (obviously) and the town’s crazy person. While everyone does their duties, she’s down at the water hulaing. She teaches Moana to love the sea, she already does, but Grandma Tala helps her fully realize it. That’s all I’ll say on her because her presence must be experienced in the film.
The Ocean. The ocean is it’s own character. It chose Moana to break the curse and the way it helps her… I love it.
Secondary Characters. Chief Tui, Sina, HeiHei and Tamatoa are the other characters in the film. They’re secondary but their parts are pretty important. Chief Tui (Temuera Morrison) is Moana’s father and while he is the usual Disney father character, I like how his reasons for the way he is is shown in the film, to give both us and Moana a better understanding of him. Sina (Nicole Scherzinger) is her mother, which of course is amazing in itself that she has both of her parents lol, but she’s great and supportive and there is a scene with her during Moana’s reprise song (I think) and it made me emotional. HeiHei (Alan Tudyk) he’s a chicken lol, or more a rooster, and he’s comic relief in a lot of ways. Tamatoa (Jemaine Clement) without giving anything away about him in this review, he’s great, kind of scary but great lol.
The Music. Disney always does great with the music. Mark Mancina (the score), Lin-Manuel Miranda (songs) and Opetaia Foa’i (songs) did the music in this film and OH MY GOODNESS I CAN’T EVEN TAKE IT! I bought the soundtrack before I saw the film, I didn’t listen to the entire thing but what I did listen to I already loved. The songs are both in English and the Tokelauan language (a Polynesian language). When the film starts and the Disney logo comes on screen the first song immediately begins and I got chills. The entire score is magnificent but the standout songs are: Where You Are, How Far I’ll Go (sung by Moana), You’re Welcome (sung by Maui), and We Know the Way and I think any of these songs will be chosen for an Oscar contender. Miranda wrote the lyrics for Maui and Moana’s songs and I think it’s easy to tell that he did. Opetaia Foa’i is part of an Oceanic music group which helps in that the music is very heavy in Polynesian culture.
The animation and designs. Disney as per usual has great graphics but I love how they’re depicted here. First of all, Moana herself is animated realistically. She is thicker than all of the previous heroines, she has muscle and she looks Polynesian. Her hair is very realistic, I read they used a different type of program to make her hair more realistic which it is, it’s long and thick and when it gets wet, it actually gets wet and deflates lol. Cracked me up in thinking of my own hair and how it does that. Her clothes are also great and practical, I read that they designed her clothing to give her movement and to be able to do physical stunts. Pays off. Maui looks like Dwayne Johnson. His body is based off of him, I mean to an extent lol. I love his tattoos and how they are literally part of his character and not just to be there. The way her island tribe looks is so beautiful. There is another character, I don’t want to give it away but the design on her is so beautiful that when she’s on screen, it’s breathtaking. The villain’s look as well is pretty amazing.
Moana and Maui’s relationship. I love great friendships and these two have such a great relationship in the film. They first meet and she’s trying to get him to face his mistakes and help her but he’s pretty selfish. They end up having a kind of antagonist relationship but it grows and I love it.
The emotions. This movie made me cry the entire time. There are moments for emotions but I think I was emotional because I was overwhelmed.
The Culture. It’s easy to tell there was a lot of research that went into this film. The way they speak about navigation, how it’s portrayed, the culture of Moana’s people themselves, the religious aspects (especially evident in Moana’s faith in the ocean)… it’s prevalent and I think it helps encourage viewers to learn more about Polynesia and the Pacific Islands. No we did not see this culture with Lilo and Stitch, different island, different people. They’re all Pacific Islanders but the cultures have differences. Research.
The story. Outside of the underlying ideas being the same, I think the execution of it and the twists are pretty nice. I like how Moana’s reasons for leaving are layered. The island is dying, the food is now scarce and she tries to get past the reef of their island to find more fish, but something happens that scares her. However, her grandmother helps her find her way and a new mission begins. She must still save her island but it’s bigger than that now too.
Cons.
Certain cliche tropes. The idea of the heroine leaving home to save her people has been done before, the idea of the heroine being torn between duty and something she loves has been done before, the thing she loves is forbidden because of something happening in the past… all of these tropes have been done before and aren’t original. Her father doesn’t want her to go out past the safety of their lagoon and she obviously goes anyway after discovering something about her people’s past which turns into that trope of the parent realizing they were wrong.
The villain. This is here not really because the villain is a bad villain but… perhaps not a villain at all? I mean, I called it but ya know.
Fun Facts:
There are three actors from Hamilton in the film, Christopher Jackson who originated George Washington does the singing voice for Chief Tui. Phillipa Soo who originated Eliza Schuyler is in the film and Jordan Fisher who has taken over for Anthony Ramos as John Laurens/Philip Hamilton on Broadway sings the pop version of “You’re Welcome” in the credits.
Auli’i Cravalho just so happens to look like Moana, she was designed before Cravalho was casted.
Maui was designed after Dwayne Johnson. He was the only person they wanted for him and reached out to Johnson directly.
Overall: I looove Moana. The first five minutes I was in tears because I was overwhelmed with the film. I think a lot of has to do with the fact that they took such care in this film, with the culture, the designs, the music. It was a lot and I loved it. I love that this heroine of color was so strong and realistic. I identified a lot with her. The music was beautiful and helps amplifies the film, the characters are all interesting and lovable. I think this is one of Disney’s best in a very long time. I enjoyed it more than Frozen and (edited here)I really liked it but not more than Zootopia. I think Zootopia is a complex film and Moana, while amazing, sticks to a lot of themes we’ve seen.
Regardless, Moana is a great family friendly film. I think if you love Disney, you’ll love this film. It’s beautifully handled. Go see it.
Rating: 4.8 out of 5 stars.
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