Directors: Ron Clements & John Musker
Starring: Auli’i Cravalho, Dwayne Johnson & Rachel House
Synopsis: 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.
Rating: PG Duration: 103 minutes Release date: 2 December (UK)
I think it would be fair to say that 2016 has not been a great year for films. It’s had its ups and downs, but has mostly consisted of fairly run-of-the-mill blockbusters swelling up cinemas and taking audiences for granted. Perhaps I’m turning into a grumpy old man and maybe my tastes are changing, but the desire to see something more than just action-orientated popcorn cinema has never been more apparent. The summer months have passed by without much of a fuss and all of a sudden two genuinely fantastic films have been released within the space of a few weeks. First Arrival and now Moana. This female led Disney production is an absolute blast of glorious CGI and such likeable characters who are a joy to be with.
As with so many Disney films, Moana follows a young girl embarking on a dramatic journey into adulthood, striving through adversity and reeling off a handful of catchy musical numbers. Moana (Auli’i Cravalho) is taking on different responsibilities as she matures into the heir of a small Polynesian island. The island is going through many hardships, with crops failing and the islands fish becoming more scarce, Moana decides drastic action must be taken and vows to venture past the islands reef. Such an act is forbidden by her father, the islands Chief but, encouraged by her Grandmother Moana takes a boat and heads off in search of the islands heart which is thought to be lost at sea thanks to the demigod Maui (Dwayne Johnson) who stole it a thousand years ago.
Moana’s main story is something we have seen time and again in countless other Disney films, but even at its most predictable Moana is a joy to behold. Moana’s adventure is her coming of age story and makes for a remarkably light tone, especially compared to 2016’s overall grim feel. There’s something that’s almost pure about this film that, like Arrival, has a message for audiences that is ever more pertinent considering the current global climate of politics and downright bastard level goings on in the world right now.
As Moana pushes on, her development is keenly felt and newcomer Auli’i Cravalho is full of charm and confidence among other more experienced actors. Dwayne Johnson plays against type as a charming, muscle-bound, tattooed demigod who is freakishly likeable. His Maui is surprisingly layered though and it’s a nice test of Johnson’s skills to see him play a character who isn’t perfect and is perhaps a little misunderstood after his antics left Moana’s island in peril. Moana and Maui’s relationship is key to the film and their bond makes for some of the most funny and heartbreaking moments in recent memory.
Directors Ron Clements and John Musker have been fine tuning their careers for three decades now, directing the likes of The Little Mermaid and Aladdin, but Moana could be their finest film yet. Endowed in culture and humanity while being exquisite to look at, Moana moves along with such confidence and vigour while being so much fun that what niggles can be raised, will be swiftly dismissed and forgotten when a film is this good.