I am a girl who loves my island, and a girl who loves the sea. It calls me.
Following Disney’s new brand of “princess” film, Moana transcends on a Polynesian wave above Frozen and even Tangled to create Disney’s greatest achievement of the last decade: a glittery, joyful delight of animation and storytelling.
Moana herself is a true triumph. She is youthful: thanks to 16-year-old newcomer Auli’i Cravalho who offers her voice both to dialogue and singing, and meets both with grace and gusto. She is beautiful: with dark skin, thick hair, soulful eyes, and strong, muscular legs. She is brave, endlessly brave. She is vulnerable (again, with great credit to Cravalho). She is fully-formed, fully-realised and refreshing. Her solo, far from the superficial catchy-ness of Let It Go, is intensely moving, a call to arms for the wanderlust and the dreamers. And it is hard to hear her cry of “I am Moana!” without feeling your heart swell.
Cute animal sidekicks are used to great effect, never annoying, always relevant. Dwayne Johnson’s demi-god Maui is charming. Jemaine Clement is on top-form as Tamatoa – a huge crab monster – whose song is a Rocky Horror-esque, David Bowie-esque lapse of psychedelic wonder and villainy (with a particularly excellent clock-like instrumental). Hamilton fans may notice Christopher Jackson appearing as the singing voice for Moana’s father and his dulcet tones are as soothing as the tides lapping on the island.
Moana is threaded with an unmistakable air of destiny and legacy, particularly in Lin-Manuel Miranda’s awe-inspiring soundtrack, and that thread – subtle but deep-rooted – is very effective. Moana’s belief in the ocean as the source of her guidance, shaping and leading her destiny, is believable. The audience do not doubt for a single second that this young chief can save the world, even when she does.
As a self-confessed sceptic over 3D animation, I was surprised at how charmed I was with the animation in this film. Visually, it is stunning. It reaches heights that I must admit could not be achieved with 2D animation. The water is alive and glinting. Moana’s hair flows and waves. Storms crack and lava burns. Such a rich environment needs the depth of 3D animation to truly sparkle.
Disney have touched upon something truly great with young Moana, the girl chosen by the sea which she adores so much to save her island and the world, and I can only wish that it receives the credit and adoration it deserves from a young audience. As a young woman, I fell in love with the strength I saw in Moana – and I hope younger girls and boys will do the same. It is characterful and meaningful with one of the most incredible soundtracks in Disney – a true achievement as Disney is known for it’s music. Miranda is proving himself a genius once again.
Moana is a call for women to never underestimate how far they can go, but with the emphasis, quite rightly, on kindness.