Walt Disney Animation Studios Moana is a spectacular film with dazzling visuals, unique melodies, and remarkable performances that will warm your heart and put a smile on your face. It’s not often a movie surpasses the lofty expectations placed upon it (especially if it’s a Disney product) but Moana not only does this, it should be considered in the same caliber of Disney film as – Hercules, Mulan, Aladdin, and Beauty and the Beast. There are good Disney movies, and then there are particular ones that will stand the course of time, Moana years from now will be considered a classic.
What is about this film that makes it unique? Could it be its storyline? The story isn’t anything unusual. Moana’s narrative centers on a young woman who is trying to learn how to lead and be who she was meant to be. Moana struggles with staying true to what her people need and being the free-thinking leader she longs to be. In the face of crisis, certain to bring death and despair to her people, she’s is conflicted as to whether to handle the situation traditionally or by going in a brand new direction. That is the inner turmoil that Moana faces throughout the film. However, what makes this familiar narrative rise from the depths of ordinary to that of extraordinary is the performance of Auli’I Cravalho.
Auli’I Cravalho is the voice of Moana, and she is truly the heart and soul of this film. Cravalho navigates her lines in the same way a ten-year film veteran would (which is amazing as this is her debut film). She performs with such passion, love, and intensity that she brings Moana to life. Director Ron Musker and John Clements made a great call not only casting her but are consistently putting her in a position to shine throughout the film. Auli’I’s energy is infectious, and her story is incredibly relatable to any pre-teen girls in the audience. As tremendous as her performance was, she’s dwarfed by the sensational performance of Dwayne Johnson.
Dwayne Johnson is the voice of Maui in the film, and he delivers an electric performance reminiscent of Robin Williams in Aladdin. It wasn’t shocking that “The Rock” could sing especially since we all saw him carry a tune as Eliot Wilhelm in Be Cool. What was shocking was how dynamic he sounded singing “You’re Welcome.” He didn’t sound anything like the guy who use to make a living checking people into the Smackdown Hotel. Johnson seemed like a Broadway star. It was a moment that turns heads and award voters will certainly make a note of. In between numbers, Johnson performance was both vibrant and incredibly charismatic. Some may argue that it maybe wasn’t Johnson but the well-written songs and they might have a bit of a point. The Lion King had Tim Rice and Elton John and Moana has “Hamilton’s” Lin-Manuel Miranda.
Miranda helped craft some the songs. Miranda made a wise choice in bringing on Te Vaka as a co-writer (Te Vaka is a Polynesian singer) to help add authenticity to his creations. The music had a Hawaiian flare to it mixed with the upbeat tempos that we are accustom to from Miranda.The two songs that stand are “How Far I’ll Go,” and “You’re Welcome.” “How Far I’ll Go” is sung by Moana as explains to her family how far she’ll go beyond the great barrier reef, which her father forbid her to do. It’s soulful song which almost comes across as a ballad about who she is and what she wants to be. “You’re Welcome” is sung by Maui and the bravado behind the song is reminiscent of Robin Williams singing “You ain’t never had a friend like me.” Maui is smug and believes everyone should be thankful just to be in his presence. Johnson projects this vocally, and it makes for tremendous performance.
The animation in Moana is gorgeously detailed. Fishes and other animals in the sea have an intricate quality to them. The shells aren’t just shells. The shells are rough and different edges. The ocean=illuminates the screen with a lush color palate. The writing is brilliant as well. I loved the scene that was reminiscent of Mad Max: Fury Road when the pirate coconuts were trying to track down Maui and Moana. Moana is the type of film that many should just stop what you are doing and buy a ticket to see it. It’s that kind of a film and these days seeing something that good is relatively rare.