Science fiction and fantasy                                            


directed by Ron Clements and John Musker


"Better than Frozen." That was my nephew's verdict on Moana, although it might be faint praise, since he wasn't the one dressing up as Frozen characters and singing the songs until the whole street knew the words.

Moana (Auli'i Cravalho) is due one day to become the chief of her tribe but her father, Chief Tui (Temuera Morrison), insists that nobody can sail beyond the reef encircling their island. They live on a tropical paradise, yet Moana has an adventurous spirit and yearns to explore the sea and beyond. Her quirky grandmother Gramma Tala (Rachel House) encourages her, but her father is very clear: the open ocean is too dangerous.

Moana, though, is chosen by the sea - the water responds to her as though it's a living being. When the island, her tribe's only source of food, starts to suffer diseases and terrible harvests Moana knows she has to act. So she sets off in search of the trickster demigod spoken about in her people's legends.

Maui (Dwayne Johnson) is a stubborn, obstructive and proud demigod with plenty of sass and humour. Moana is also accompanied by Heihei (Alan Tudyk), the world's stupidest chicken. Together they take off on a fast-paced adventure that's as colourful as the shiny shell of Tamatoa (Jemaine Clement), one of the monsters they encounter.

The songs are catchy, and of the calibre to be sung time and again. My personal favourites are Tamatoa's Shiny, How Far I'll Go, and You're Welcome as sung by Dwayne Johnson. The soundtrack composition is a collaboration between Mark Mancini, Lin-Manuel Miranda, and Opetaia Foa'i, and it really is cracking.

The story delivers the emotional ups and downs and feelgood, life-affirming tone that's typical of Disney movies. Perhaps the greatest feelgood sense comes from Moana herself: she's a determined young woman who wants to chart her own course and make her own story. She has agency. Aesthetically she has a realistic body type, strong rather than too slender, that matches her character and is encouraging to see. It's also great to have a Polynesian character to balance the whitewashing of many Hollywood films.

As the PG rating implies, this film never gets above mild peril. In fact, it takes a while to reach its eventual intense pace as we learn about Moana's island and the characters, both human and animal, who live there. This story makes time for humour and other strong emotions, so we have time to appreciate what her home island means to Moana and why she must protect it.

Beyond a simple yet compelling story of a girl's quest to find herself, Moana is notable for the things it leaves out. There's no romance, no prince to marry, no questioning Moana's right to lead, and no passive heroine waiting to be rescued. This is the kind of film that won't leave girls feeling inadequate, under-represented, or self-conscious. It's also a fantastic, heartwarming, tear-jerking, thrilling, cheeky, musical escape.

29th December 2016

Film Details

Year: 2016

Categories: Films

  Kids     Fantasy

Classification: PG

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5 star rating

Review ©

Source: seen at the cinema