By Jack Dignan
While many big studios have been either underperforming or receiving negative reviews with their recent blockbusters as of late, there’s one major studio that keeps on delivering. Disney. With the new Star Wars making over $2 billion and another one due for release in just two weeks (somebody hold me. I’m too excited.), as well as the releases of new Pixar and Marvel movies, on top of other original films, Disney are unstoppable. They’re on a train that’s constantly gaining momentum, and this Boxing Day, they’ve got another hit on their hands. This hit comes in form of Moana, their second animated feature in 2016, and it further proves that Disney is dominating in 2016.
Moana follows the story of the titular character, Moana (newcomer Auli'i Cravalho). She’s a young teenager living on a peaceful, rather beautiful island with her family, where she will one day be put in charge of it. The problem is, Moana’s life ambitions don’t revolve around being stuck on the island for the rest of her life. She wishes to adventure across the sea, exploring everything there is to explore, and would you believe that adventure soon comes calling? Chosen and aided by the sea, Moana must venture across the ocean in search of the demigod Maui (Dwayne Johnson), where he must be persuaded into helping Moana return a stolen heart and end the curse that’s been put upon her land.
Not including Pixar films, Moana is the best Disney animated movie in nearly two decades. For me, this film easily tops the likes of mega-hit Frozen. It’s a charming, hilarious and wondrous animated movie that embodies everything I know and love about Disney. It has a few typical Disney moments here and there, including a few very minor parallels to other Disney movies, such as The Little Mermaid (strangely…), but at the same time it’s a step forward for the company. It’s something a little different. It’s something new. And I absolutely cannot wait to see it at least twelve more times in theatres. Probably more. Actually… Now that I think of it… Definitely more.
Before we even delve into the story and the music, amongst other things, I just want to take a moment to appreciate the film’s animation. It’s truly something special. The animation is beyond beautiful, the film utilizing and combining together several different styles to make for a visually pleasing experience. For the most part, it’s 3D animation, and the 3D animation is some of Disney’s finest. But on top of that, there’s the occasional musical sequence that brings in new elements, such as 2D animation, and it makes for a visually stimulating, highly engrossing movie experience. The transition and combination of the multiple styles flows seamlessly, creating some of the best moments in the entire film.
Not only are the environments and colour pallets excellent, but the character designs themselves look phenomenal. 3D animation in recent years is constantly evolving, and the look and feel of the characters in Moana will take your breath away. They certainly took away mine. They look genuine and detailed, all while maintaining a mildly cartoon-y feel. Moana’s design is absolutely stunning, moving and acting like a real person. The work that must’ve gone into creating these characters blows me away. Disney have seriously stepped things up a notch, and I couldn’t be happier with the final product.
It’s all well and dandy to have great character design, but if the characters themselves are great then that’s what really matters. Well-written characters trumps well designed characters any day, and thankfully, with Moana, it’s got both. The characters here, predominantly Moana and Maui as they’re the only two characters we’re stuck with for most of the film’s runtime, are both fantastic. When people think of Disney, the first characters that come to mind are Belle or Ariel or Mulan or even Elsa. Soon, however, some of the first characters coming to mind will be Moana and Maui, as they’re two of the most developed, interesting, loveable and three dimensional characters Disney have ever made. I walked out of this film and my first thought was “I seriously have to get their pop vinyls.”
What makes them so special is that, despite being slightly extraordinary, they’re still only human. It’s a very human story, allowing for audiences to relate in many different ways. They’re not perfect, flawless characters that already know how to achieve everything. They both have different agendas and different reasons to be here, if they even want to be here at all. Maui isn’t some know-it-all demigod. He’s a broken character who, honestly, doesn’t want to do the things Moana is making him do. He tries on several occasions to escape, and it’s this human side to his character that made me care about him a lot, even with his cocky nature. Plus, it helps when the character is voiced by the Rock, AKA the most likeable dude to ever walk planet earth.
Ever since coming out of this film, I haven’t been able to stop singing along to the songs. There are so many songs in this film that will undoubtedly become classics in the near future. None of them will probably end up being quite as big as, say, Let It Go, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they pick up some serious awards when award season comes around. The soundtrack ranges from emotional to uplifting to straight up hilarious, and all of them are rather catchy. Not only that, but the score itself is also extremely impressive, even if completely (but expectedly) overshadowed by the actual musical numbers. Still, it’s these musical numbers that were some of my favourite scenes in the movie. I still have them stuck in my head.
To sum up, Moana has a little something for everyone. It’s funny, emotional, exciting and full of excellent musical numbers. The animation is brilliant, the voice cast is lively, and while it has a few minor Disney familiarities, it’s one of their best films in a very, very, very long time.
4 1/2 Stars