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Disney // PG // November 23, 2016
List Price: Unknown [Buy now and save at Fandango]
The world of Disney princesses has been expanding in recent years to be a more diverse world that is more representative of the one that we live in. Not only was this idea sure to make a ton of money, but it's much more interesting storytelling that has the potential to explore different perspectives. Moana brings the first Polynesian Disney princess to the silver screen, as well as one of the best animated films of the year. if you're looking for a movie to bring the whole family to, this is one that everybody can equally enjoy.
Born as the daughter to the chief, Moana (Auli'i Cravalho) has always had dreams of navigating the sea. However, the people on her island have strict rules to never cross the reef due to a fear of various dangers. After being chosen by the sea itself, she must seek out legendary demigod Maui (Dwayne Johnson) in order to save the life of islands everywhere.
Screenwriter Jared Bush has crafted a story with a message that is remarkably impactful. While Moana deeply cares for the people on her home island, she has always had a love for the ocean. Her father has high expectations for her, as she's supposed to be the next chief. This is a film about following your passions, even if you're terrified of the unknown factors that are past the horizon. However, Bush communicates this in a way that is natural to the story that never feels out of place. While there aren't many scenes between Moana and her grandmother, they are the heart of the feature. Moana's time on the island is primarily only used to introduce us to her world, yet it still manages to establish feelings within the audience for this princess and her people.
The plot itself is incredibly straight-forward, as we're told of Moana's mission within the first few minutes of the film's running time. However, Bush's screenplay makes it clear that this is a story about the journey, and not the actual goal itself. Moana and the egotistical Maui initially clash, although this proves to be a journey of character arcs. They follow the typical Disney formula, but it's executed so incredibly well. The humor is often quite effective, even despite a chicken that tags along on their adventure that is relied on a bit too much for comedic relief. There are more obvious puns made for the younger crowd and some more mature jokes that will surely land with adults. The balance between the laughs and the dramatic elements is successful, as neither one takes away from the other.
At the end of the day, the most important element of the film is Moana herself. She proves to be an engaging character that audiences will surely want to see more of on the silver screen. This is a well-developed character that goes through real problems that anybody can relate to. She's an independent protagonist that doesn't constantly rely on male roles to achieve her goals. Naturally, Disney incorporates a collection of songs that will have children driving their parents crazy by singing them. However, Moana's tunes are catchy and perfectly in line with the film's tone. Newcomer Auli'i Cravalho delivers beautiful vocals that ring through the theater with wonderment. There are a couple songs in particular that are sure to stick in your mind, and only time will tell if they will land the popularity of Frozen's "Let It Go." Expect to see "How Far I'll Go" on the Oscar nominations list for "Best Original Song."
There's no denying that Disney knows how to deliver a beautiful looking animated film. Moana boasts a tremendous picture that stuns from its very first frame until the credits are done rolling. The environments are gorgeous, and the water is continuously breathtaking. This adventure takes the lead characters through a few different places that allow our eyes to appreciate more than just the ocean, as creature design stands as one of the film's greatest strengths. This all lends quite well to the action sequences that are paired with sound design that makes Moana that much better of a theater experience.
Disney has been working on this feature for quite a few years, and the work has all paid off. Despite a simple story, the screenplay still manages to deliver an impactful message and a central character that we can't get enough of. Some of the comedic aspects become a bit repetitive, although much of it still manages to get plenty of worthwhile laughs. The songs are ridiculously catchy and provide great messages for the younger crowd. Perhaps the best thing that can be said about the studio's latest film is that it will leave you feeling uplifted, which we could all use nowadays. Moana is an inspiring journey of Disney princess excellence. Highly recommended!