Over the current decade Disney has been trying relentlessly to bring powerful and, most importantly, independent heroines to the screen. This they have achieved with moderate success. Tangled’s Rapunzel and Frozen’s Anna were certainly an improvement from the comatose Sleeping Beauty or the helplessly naive Snow White, but they drew criticism from some who highlighted the fact Disney still couldn’t resist adding a handsome man to the mix.
Their latest heroine Moana (voiced by fifteen-year-old Auli’i Cravalho) shares more in common with Brave’s courageous Merida – my favourite Disney princess in recent years.
Raised on the small island of Motuni, Moana dreams of a life beyond the turquoise seas that surround her small home. But her father, Chief Tui (Temuera Morrison) has different ideas and for decades the ocean has been considered too dangerous for travel. As Moana is preparing to take over her father’s role, Motuni descends into a darkness caused by Demi-god a century earlier and Moana must set sail in search of the god Maui (Dwayne Johnson) and save the fate of her island.
If you’re a hard-core Disney fan you won’t be disappointed. Moana is filled with wonderful musical moments (be prepared for characters bursting into song at every given opportunity) and exceedingly catchy songs. But it is not afraid to poke fun at itself. ”If you start singing right now I’m gonna throw up” Maui tells Moana as she stands triumphantly atop a mountain. It is this self-deprecating humour that is one of Moana’s greatest assets.
Another is the spectacular Polynesian setting help up by the beautiful animation. Even the most cynical viewers will leave with a new-found wanderlust after witnessing Moana’s Polynesian-inspired island brought to life.
Yet the majority of Moana takes place at sea. Having conducted extensive research into Polynesian culture and discovering the significance of the sea, directors John Musker and Ron Clements decide it was essential the ocean had a life of its own. While Pocahontas had Grandma Willow to guide her and Simba was watched over by the compassionate Rafiki, Moana has an entire ocean acting as her silent protector.
This lively ocean, together with our heroine Moana, the child-like Maui and an extraordinary dim chicken are our only company for most of the film – but what wonderful company they are! The decision to cast Dwayne Johnson as the loveable rouge Maui was truly inspired and it’s impossible to imagine anyone else doing it better. Combine this with Auli’i Cravalho’s charismatic charm (not to mention her incredible vocal talents) and you have a winner.
Eagle-eyed Disney fans are sure to notice one or two similarities from the Studio’s former films. Maui’s tattoo-riddled body contains a mini version of himself that acts as the selfish Demi-god’s conscious. Anyone who can recall Disney’s underrated gem The Emperor’s New Groove may notice a resemblance to the little creatures who helped Kuzco deal with difficult decisions. I would also recommend fans of The Little Mermaid, directed by Musker and Clements, stick around for the ending credits sequence.
Moana is best summed up as joy from start to finish. Featuring a host of wonderful songs and loveable characters – it will leave you feeling happier, as every Disney movie should.