Review: Moana (2016) — Perhaps the most inspirational “Disney Princess”

moana movie still


Movie review

Directed and co-screenwritten by Ron Clements and John Musker, the dynamic duo who brought us Disney classics such as Aladdin (1992) and The Little Mermaid (1989), Moana is a musical fantasy adventure animation about the young, strong-willed titular female protagonist who leaves her island home to go on a dangerous journey to seek for the help of a demigod named Maui in order to save her tribe. However, Maui needs to find his hook staff to regain his magical powers before he can be of any use. And there begins the adventure across the sea.

Charmingly voiced by debut actress Auli’i Cravalho, Moana is a great young heroin that kids could look up to. She does it all and she’s brave, tough, kindhearted, very likable, adorable but doesn’t have fair skin and unrealistically small waists, and most importantly, followed her heart for good reasons. The film developed the character very well too. Move a side, typical white male princes ’cause this princess doesn’t need you to save her. And instead of having an unrealistically smart animal sidekick, she has a retarded chicken that constantly needs to be saved by her. But she does need the help of a demigod with magical powers. Maui is interesting with his magical hook staff and sentient tattoos but isn’t as electrifying and funny as its voice actor Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson (Central Intelligence, San Andreas) could be.

moana still cg visuals

The pro-feminism and no-white supremacy spirit in the film are commendable. It is also quite anti-typical Disney fairytale with no hint of romance at all in the story. The film’s moral values and subtle environmental metaphors are highly admirable as well. The CG visuals are great, as expected, and the music by Lin-Manuel Miranda, Opetaia Foa’i and Mark Mancina are very enjoyable, even the villain ones. There’s a lot of Tarzan (1999) feel in the songs with a refreshing combination of pacific sound. The theme song “How Far I’ll Go” performed by Cravalho in the film is now one of my favourites this year and I have to say that it’s far better than the less-moving radio version by Alessia Cara. However, the film does have a formulaic structure with predictable cliches, overly children-targeted humour (I only had a few chuckles through out the entire film), and it lacks of real defining, heartfelt magic that Disney or Pixar animations usually have.

Last year, the more brilliant Walt Disney Pictures-distributed animated film, Pixar’s Inside Out, came first before The Good Dinosaur was released towards the end of the year. It feels quite similar this year as Moana is certainly no Zootopia (released earlier this year) and if I had to put my money on which of these two might win Best Animated Feature, it would be Zootopia without hesitation. However, Moana is still an energetically entertaining Disney animation and it features, to me, the most inspirational Disney Princess (she’s the daughter of the tribe’s chief so she should be considered as one) in the modern era, if not of all time.

moana maui meme

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What I would’ve named the film: “Mou-moan-lah: Just Do It” (‘mou’ is ‘don’t’ in Cantonese)

Tie-in animated short film: Inner Workings — Like Inside Out but with all major organs as characters. It’s simple but meaningful short about casting away your fears, listening to your heart at times and just live a little or your life would be wasted away. Relevant to one of Moana‘s themes as well. YOLO, MOFO.

Malaysian censorship: It’s a Disney animation lah.

Verdict: Third best American animated film I’ve seen this year behind Zootopia and Kubo and the Two Strings.

Rating: 4 / 5

moana movie posterGenre: Animation, fantasy adventure
Running Time: 114 minutes
Director: John Musker, Ron Clements
Screenwriters: Taika Waititi, Pamela Ribon, John Musker, Ron Clements
Cast: Auli’i Cravalho, Dwayne Johnson, Alan Tudyk

Malaysia Release Date: 1 December 2016
Rated: P13
Local Distributor: Walt Disney Studios Malaysia / Bueno Vista
Production: Walt Disney Pictures, Walt Disney Animation Studios

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