Catchy new songs are already auto-playing in my head, I’m almost skipping out of the cinema on my emotional high, overhearing young and old excitedly sharing their favourite bits of 'Moana'. And there are many. It won’t surprise anyone that Disney has another hit on their plate, but I’m calling it now, this is Disney’s new 'Frozen'. Parents, ready yourself for soundtracks being played on repeat in the little time you will get between repeat viewings of 'Moana' once it hits home video. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves, and maybe do yourself a favour and leave the kids at home.
The opening prologue immediately reminded me of 'The Lord Of The Rings' and the similarities did not end there; a great evil can only be stopped by returning a small shiny item to where it belongs by getting the unlikeliest of heroes to set out on a seemingly impossible quest. The Ocean chooses Moana, who is determined to undertake this mission for the sake of her people. During her adventure she doesn’t only discover the world, but her true self.
It’s nice to see Disney continuing its trend of having the princess being the hero, though Moana would argue she is not a princess (“If you wear a dress and have an animal sidekick, you’re a princess”, Maui tells her). It is Moana who saves the world, not Maui, though he does lend a helping hand. It was Maui who stole the heart, causing the entire mess, and he gets his redemption in the end, but it is Moana who gets to do the heroic deed.
Within the first few minutes of the film we are shown exactly who Moana is. When cute as a button baby Moana (voiced by Auli’I Cravalho) wants a shiny seashell but sees a baby turtle in need, she abandons the seashell to help the baby turtle to the water without being eaten by birds; she even gets some foliage to shield it from the sun. It is an adorable sequence, showcasing how kind and selfless Moana is. She is rewarded by the Ocean becoming her friend, edging out some space by holding back the water for Moana to get to the seashell. We are introduced to the Ocean as a character, cleverly represented by something akin to the water entity from 'The Abyss'. Nature has been personified in 'Moana' with the Ocean and Te Fiti taking on shape and personality, making the green message of the film even clearer. It never hits you over the head with it as 'Zootropolis' sometimes did. 'Moana' is more subtle in its approach.
Also along for the ride, more by accident than anything, is the sidekick and comic relief, the chicken Heyhey. When the film started I suspected the cute little piggy would function as Moana’s sidekick, but the brainless chicken was chosen instead. It leads to some funny bits and, as I’d hoped, it gets its moment to shine and validate its existence later on. I wasn’t too taken with that character as it had no character to speak of and was surprised to hear kids and adults alike seemed to love the chicken as we walked out of the cinema.
The unlikely trio make for an interesting team. Moana and Maui’s juxtaposed personalities lead to a lot of wisecracking and bickering, making every scene a joy to watch. The voice actors clearly had fun with their characters. And if not for all three of them one of the best action sequences in the film wouldn't have worked as well as it did. When the Kakamori approach, Moana turns into a kids version of 'Mad Max', with high speed action that has your head spinning. Against impossible odds Moana shows courage and perseverance again and again. She is the badass hero that not only kids like to see. And don't call her a princess just because she has an animal sidekick.
The icing on the cake of this already well rounded package is the music. The score and songs are utterly brilliant. The songs all serve purpose in the narrative and move the story along. They are catchy and beautiful, all co-written by Hamilton’s Lin-Manuel Miranda. Auli’I Cravalho has a tremendous voice, belting out Moana’s songs with such vigour I got emotional every single time. When Johnson started singing I was readying myself to cringe. And yes, he is not a great singer, but the song suits him and turned into THE song loads of adults and kids were talking about after the film. He puts so much energy and fun into his performance that you can't help but join in. People were singing his song “You're welcome” when leaving the cinema, and I still have it stuck in my head days later.
Speaking of leaving, make sure you stay until after the credits for an additional scene. I won't spoil it for you, but I enjoyed it and had another giggle. The music during the credits doesn't make it tough to stay behind so do yourself a favour and linger.
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