Moana Movie Review


Samantha Brant

By Nellie Shih ’19, News Editor
“For centuries, the greatest sailors in the world masterfully navigated the vast Pacific, discovering the many islands of Oceania. But then, 3,000 years ago, their voyages stopped for a millennium – and no one knows exactly why.” (Disney Movies)
Disney’s newest animated film follows Moana, a 16-year-old islander, voiced by Auli’i Cravalho. Moana and her fellow villagers have lived on the same island for as long as she can remember, as they are all forbidden to go past the reef. Besides her name meaning “ocean,” Moana has had a connection with the ocean since she was young. Moana knows she is meant to go beyond the reef, but her father, the chief, is in the way. “Throughout the movie, she never gives up, no matter what’s thrown at her,” Moana screenwriter, Jared Bush, told BuzzFeed News. “There are times when Moana fails, and we wanted to see her fail because that’s what makes her human. We didn’t want her to be perfect, we wanted her to be real.” Moana is persistent, and pushes through difficult situations to answer the question: “’Why did the ocean choose me?” She is “in search of [her] true identity.”
The film also stars Dwayne Johnson as Maui: shapeshifter, demigod of the wind and sea, hero of men (and women). Disney wasn’t afraid to make someone as legendary as Maui human, either. Maui isn’t perfect: he doesn’t succeed all the time. Sometimes he gets frustrated or messes up, which allows the audience to relate to Moana and Maui, and to look up to their drive.
Cravalho and Johnson work well together; the characters share some playful banter, and can also pull at the audience’s heartstrings. Cravalho was the last actress the casting actress saw, and was only 14 and a freshman in high school when she was cast. She was born and raised on the Hawaiian Islands and says that “Moana is especially close to [er] heart because she’s Polynesian.” (Business Insider) Cravalho brings Moana to life with plenty of humor, heart, and energy, which proves she was meant for the role.
Disney’s 56th animated film is directed by Ron Clements and John Musker (The Great Mouse Detective, The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, Hercules, Treasure Planet, The Princess and the Frog.) The duo traveled twice to the southern region of Oceania to form the Oceanic Story Trust, a team of experts (anthropologists, academics, educators, linguists, navigators, and cultural advisers) that helped the film remain faithful to Polynesian culture (BuzzFeed). The animated costumes of all the characters as well as the landscape are all incredible and beautiful.
The music is composed by Lin-Manuel Miranda (In the Heights, Hamilton), Opetaia Foa’i, and Mark Mancina. (Brother Bear, The Haunted Mansion, Tarzan) Miranda “brings his litearary rhymes and hip-hop flair to a collaboration with…Foa’i, who, with his band Te Vaka, provides choral island music.” (New York Post) The soundtrack is phenomenal, and leaves songs stuck in the audience’s head that they will never get tired of. Aside from Cravalho’s “How Far I’ll Go,” and Johnson’s “You’re Welcome,” Jemaine Clement (Flight of the Conchords, Rio, Rio 2) channels his inner David Bowie to sing “Shiny” as a treasure-obsessed crab.
In addition to the fantastic voice acting and music, the animation is truly impressive. Moana is Clements and Musker’s first primarily computer-animated film— the only hand-drawn elements are Maui’s tattoos. The special effects team used a new system named “Splash” to animate the water. They “spent a lot of time envisioning how to create the ocean as a character; so that it didn’t just look like a serpent coming out of the water.” (BuzzFeed) The animation of the characters’ hair was equally impressive: it looked extremely realistic.
Overall, the film is heartwarming and funny, the music is extremely catchy (I write as I listen to the soundtrack for what must be the hundredth time), and I recommend the film to anyone of any age. Moana is “a type of hero that I don’t think we’ve seen on screen before,” said Bush. “[He] hope[s] that the next generation of young women right now can look at a character like Moana and be inspired by her – frankly, just as much as [he] wants little boys to be inspired by her.”