Movie Review: Moana (2016)
“The ocean is calling.”
Director: Ron Clements, John Musker
Cast: Auli’i Cravalho, Dwayne Johnson, Rachel House
Synopsis: In ancient Polynesia, a Chieftain’s daughter attempts to lift a curse placed on her island by the Demigod Maui.
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Disney’s latest digital animation is a step forward for the studio as it explores the adventure of a young Polynesian woman called Moana. Junkee writes that while Disney have made missteps in the past with how they represent different cultures on the silver screen, with Moana they have succeeded in accurately representing Polynesian culture.
Debuting actress Auli’I Cravalho is superb as the title character Moana and conveys the character’s inner strength with ease. Her voice work effortlessly captures Moana’s strong spirit, and the range and depth of her singing voice is pitch perfect. The characterisation of Moana is one of the film’s biggest strengths and the director and Cravalho have created one of Disney’s strongest characters. The positive message Moana puts forward and how the film deals with the traditional princess tropes is a credit to both the writing and acting.
One of the big draws of the film was that Dwayne Johnson was lending his voice to a Disney musical. Johnson has always been a natural entertainer and takes to voice-over and singing like a duck to water. His charisma shines through Maui especially during his first meeting with Moana and the song that accompanies it. It is a shame that he only has one song during the film but his solo number is great fun to watch and listen to.
The real star of show however is the visuals. Moana is one of the most beautiful animation films ever made. The filmmakers did everything possible to capture the look of the Polynesian culture and Pacific Islands. The New Zealand Herald reports that Disney hired Samoan-born musician Opetaia Foa’i to work with the filmmakers to ensure that the culture was well represented. Speaking to the paper about the film, Opetaia said, “I think this will awaken some sort of pride in people and hopefully they will go, ‘oh I need to go back and reconnect and put my feet on the land and discover, find out my roots.’”
While Moana is the first time Polynesian culture has been seen in a mainstream film, the culture has been celebrated in other media platforms. The Mark of Kri for the PlayStation 2 was an action adventure game heavily influenced by Polynesian culture and symbolism. The game was well received with renowned gaming site IGN awarding the game 8.8/10 in their review calling it “the best beat-‘em-up on the system.” Other platforms such as mobile gaming site Pocket Fruity have used the iconography of Polynesian culture in their game Lost Island. Like Moana, Lost Island uses the theme of discovering a hidden island in the Pacific Ocean, a storyline that has clearly proven popular with film and gaming fans.
Moana has been a huge success for Disney with the ;Business Insider reporting that the film has topped sales for three consecutive weeks. Along with Tangled, Frozen and Big Hero 6, Moana shows how far Disney has come with their digital animation and how they are now seen as equal competition to Pixar. Moana is a beautiful film both visually and narratively with a great message.