Moana is the 56th Disney animated film, and the latest from a studio that has seriously revived itself from near obsolescence at the hands of Pixar. It has the creative teams behind Aladdin and Hamilton behind it, and the first Pacific Islander princess (well, daughter of a chieftan). Does Moana stand in the company of Disney’s latest string of classics? No, but despite some serious flaws, it still manages to be kind of impossible to dislike.
First, the good: Moana is the most visually stunning animation Disney has ever produced. The sheer number of things interacting that were once thought impossible to computer animate: sand, hair, water…..come to think of it, sand, hair, and water comprise a pretty significant amount of the screen throughout the entire film. Moana is a crash course in Polynesian mythology following the story of the demigod Maui (Dwayne Johnson) and the young girl chosen by the Ocean, Moana ( Auli’i Cravalho) to find him and undo his past mischief to save her island home. Maui and Moana have to carry 80% of the film, and Disney is extremely fortunate that they’re both outstanding vocal actors, because the screenplay is weak and a lot of the humor falls flat (there’s a Twitter joke and a sentient tattoo….just saying). But that they ARE so likable combined with the visual eye candy, carries the film through on good will.
So who knew The Rock could sing? Is there anything Dwayne Johnson can’t do? It doesn’t even matter that his song isn’t very good, because what else are the Oscars going to nominate in this category and I desperately now want to see The Rock singing at the Oscar ceremony. The songs are actually one of the film’s biggest problems. “How Far I’ll Go” and “We Are Away” are great, but even they fall into the trap the rest of the songs do: a whole lot of exposition rather than just being a killer song or a key character moment. I don’t particularly want a five-minute song about coconuts in the daily life of the village from the forgettable supporting cast. Many of the songs are just explanatory dialogue that’s being sung, and-to me-that’s one of the most irritating traps a musical can fall into.
I don’t want to sound like the film’s a bomb, because it’s far from that. It genuinely is likable, but I don’t know that it has the repeat viewing value of the studio’s biggest hits. This isn’t Frozen or The Little Mermaid or Sleeping Beauty or Aladdin. I will give Disney credit for breaking their mold in two ways. There is NO love story in this film. None. At all. Also, Moana has a mother and a father, neither is a monster, and both live through the whole film (spoiler). This flies in the face of the time-honored Disney family tradition of matricide (and the occasional patricide). Heck, Big Hero 6 did both and threw in a fratricide! PARENTS CAN LIVE! Miracles can come true! Moana is definitely worth seeing; I just don’t know if you’ll walk away ever wanting to revisit it.