Disney’s ‘Moana’ is another continuation in the series that I am now calling the “Wide-eyed princess with a purpose” series. Fellow princesses in this series include Merida in ‘Brave’, Rapunzel in ‘Tangled’, and Elsa and Anna in ‘Frozen’. ‘Moana’ is Disney at its purposeful princess best with catchy music, plenty of life-lessons, and gorgeous animation.
Moana is the daughter of a chief on the Polynesian island of Motunui. She is, of course, laden with all the chief-daughter duties one would expect but because she is a precocious princess, she is not having any of it. Instead, she wants to explore beyond the reef and be out on the sea, going against the one rule she has — stay on the island and lead your people. However, when a darkness starts to affect the island’s ecosystem, Moana realizes she must find the demigod Maui who once stole the heart of the island goddess Te Fiti. Moana, with the encouragement of her grandmother, believes that by restoring the heart of Te Fiti the island will be healthy again. On the way Moana discovers her true self by learning the history of her people — they were once Polynesian voyagers who sailed the sea in search of new lands — a desire Moana knows only too well. Oh, and she will have to defeat a lava monster. If it sounds a little convoluted, that’s because it is, but it is told in a way that makes sense and harps on the main idea — be true to yourself.
Like ‘Brave’, this princess story features no love interest. You could argue that Moana’s most interesting relationship is between her and the ocean. She’s a Disney princess with a common Disney princess goal in the beginning — to go beyond what she knows. Her goal then morphs into what I believe to be one of the more interesting paths a Disney princess has taken— to become a way-finder. A position once held by her people when they use to explore the ocean. Her other main relationship is with the demigod Maui, a self-obsessed trickster with a heart of gold who only wants to help and serve the people he watches over. Maui has a lot to atone for (he did steal the heart of the island) but also a lot to teach the young way-finder. Their relationship is neither patronizing nor full of nagging, and it turns out Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson is just as charming in vocal form as he is on screen.
The music has clearly been written with the help of Lin-Manuel Miranda and if that doesn’t mean anything to you then I guess you haven’t been swept up in the ‘Hamilton’ craze. It consists of lots of repeating melodies intertwined throughout different songs and the use of talk-singing/rapping. It works out great for The Rock’s solo song “You’re Welcome.” Jemaine Clement, of ‘Flight of the Conchords’ fame, also gets a great song about a crab who is obsessed with sparkly things. While there are no ‘Frozen’ like ballads that will top the charts for the next year (thank goodness!) the music is pleasant enough and you will leave the theater humming at least one song.
If you can’t stand musicals I can honestly say there is still enough here to hold your attention; mainly the gorgeous animation. I’m sure I say this about every Disney movie but the animation just continues to get better. In ‘Moana’, it is specifically the water that impresses the audience. In the movie, the ocean is a living thing and the animation certainly reflects that; I couldn’t take my eyes off of it.
At its heart ‘Moana’ is still a princess movie, complete with familiar elements like cute animal sidekicks and disapproving parents. However, there are enough new elements that save this movie from the mundane, such as a character getting a tattoo with the encouragement of the young princess and a history of Pacific Islanders that has never been told before. This is the movie you should take your family to see, to make everyone happy, as there is a little something for every one. In the words of Maui — you’re welcome.