There’s an animation renaissance reoccurring in Disney Studios that’s undeniable. Gamer love-letter “Wreck-It Ralph,” juggernaut and multiple 2016 Oscar winner “Frozen,” and now 2017 Oscar-winning “Zootopia.” However it’s the tale of the adventurous Polynesian girl that has the priceless mixture of rich cultural folklore, the perfect infectious tunes and heart that puts “Moana” on orbital arc to eclipse them all.
In Ancient Polynesia, Demigod Maui (Dwayne Johnson) disrupts the balance of things by stealing the jewel heart of Ocean Goddess Tafiti resulting in being banished and separated from his magical hook. Fast forward several hundred years as the effects of Maui’s error arrive to all the islands in the archipelago. The daughter of a Chieftain, Moana, is chosen by the ocean to set things right. This is the first time that Polynesian culture has been represented on such an incredibly international and accessible scale. Disney is taking an active role in fostering diversity in culture and gender for their heroes. Writer Jared Bush is required to wrangle the insane pool of ideas from a list of story contributors larger than the Rock’s biceps.
“Moana” is a celebration of culture that both honours custom and challenges investigation. There’s such a strong sense of duty in Moana’s life toward her family and the roles and responsibilities she’s required to perform but the great thing about the character is that she doesn’t deny this calling inside for adventure, for exploring, for conquest. Directors Ron Clements and John Musker (and their co-directors Don Hall and Chris Williams) frame that quintessential human desire for discovery that drives Moana, that seems to have been forgotten by her people.
With songs from Opetaia Foa’l, Mark Mancina and ‘Hamilton’ creative force Lin-Manuel Miranda, the music takes interludes of oral history, moments of building relationships and self motivation to extraordinary heights. Newcomer Auli’i Cravalho brings her vibrancy and enthusiasm to Moana that adds an incandescence to our already warm and colourful young heroine. She’s tough, determined but even while she’s being rebellious, there’s a beautiful deference in the way she approaches her task that makes you root for her with the intensity of family. Dwayne Johnson so perfectly embodies the larger than life Maui. Other than the hair, and the tattoos that live out a 2D animated story, he’s able to add a dimension of charm and flare to the excessively arrogant and narcissistic demigod begrudgingly paired with this inexperienced little girl.
Gramma Tala (voiced by Rachel House) is Moana’s grandmother and the custodian of their lost culture. Nurturing Moana’s wayfaring impulse, she’s a living guardian angel. Temuera Morrison voices Chief Tui and is not even in the same realm as Jake the Muss or Jango Fett. It’s a cautious and caring father whose failure in youth have arrested his thrill seeking impulse for adventure. Jemaine Clement has a ball playing Tamatoa the giant singing and conceited crab.
“Moana” brings us a non-traditional Disney Princess that’s unique, long overdue and feels right at home.