It is odd how susceptible we are to suggestion as we watch a movie and how one little thought before or during a film can change your entire outlook on the picture you’re seeing. Perhaps it is a difference in perspective, like realizing that “Iron Man 3” is a Tony Stark movie instead of Iron Man, or maybe a snide comment from a friend about how ridiculous the plot was even though you were taking it pretty seriously. And it doesn’t take much either.
When I went to see “Moana,” there was a brief introduction from the directors, Ron Clements and John Musker, who proudly say they directed other Disney-animated films like “The Little Mermaid,” “Aladdin” and “Hercules.” At the time, I didn’t give it much thought, but as this new Disney feature progressed, I began to realize something – “Moana” takes the best elements of those three movies and rolls it into one personal journey of self discovery.
In the beginning, the earth is only ocean until the goddess Te Fiti used her powers of creation to bring life and beauty to the world, creating many islands that her people can live upon. But one day, the demigod Maui (Dwayne Johnson) steals Te Fiti’s source of power and darkness erupts from the ocean, as well as the lava monster Te Ka. The two fight to a standstill, but Te Fiti’s mystical heart is lost in the ocean depths, until a young girl, Moana (Auli’i Caravalho) is given the heart by the ocean.
Moana is the daughter of the chief and will someday run their island, but she is only interested in exploring the ocean, which her father forbids her from doing. She becomes confused about her purpose on the island and wants to know what is beyond this tiny island they stand on. She is given a new purpose, though when darkness and death begin reaching the island and realizes that she must take Te Fiti’s mystic heart back to where it belongs, with a little help from a demigod.
Moana’s character is a strange mix between Aladdin and Jasmine. She loves her people and cares for them, but she wants to know how the world works outside of the little spot of land she calls home. Her crazier antics involving the ocean are shunned by the village elders and she is sometimes seen as an outcast – a street rat, if you will. She is adventurous, witty and independent, while also happily taking the title of princess.
As for the one other main character, Maui, I wanted to say he reminded me of the Genie, with his phenomenal cosmic powers and selfish sense of humor, but his otherworldly powers are mostly limited to his fish hook. Instead, Maui feels like a Polynesian version of Hercules, with his unrivaled strength and need to constantly prove himself, both to the gods and to himself.
We’re told that Maui is responsible for many of the things humans take for granted, like the wind, coconuts, the sun being up long enough to enjoy the day and pretty much every enjoyable aspect of nature. Anytime Maui performs a good deed, a new tattoo is magically given to him (cutie marks, anyone?). But all the work he does never seem to be enough, which might be why he stole the power of creation. He treats everything like a trial of strength and might, when all he really wants is acceptance.
“Moana” certainly has the smallest main cast of any Disney movie, since the majority is Moana and Maui at sea. The two spend most of their time learning from the other and singing some pretty good musical numbers, like Maui’s “You’re Welcome!” which is basically one massive ego-trip, which makes the Rock such a great choice to voice Maui. So don’t expect a diverse cast in this film, but be ready for lots of mythology about the sea, like you would get in “The Little Mermaid.”
In other words, “Moana” is the tale of Aladdin/Jasmine teaming up with Hercules in the world of “The Little Mermaid.” And I mean that in the best possible way.
Like any other Disney-animated movie, “Moana” is beautiful to look at, even if it is mostly at sea. The way the water lights up and night or reflects the sunlight is gorgeous and there are some creative characters these two come across, like a band of coconut pirates that outnumber our heroes but are ridiculously small. The ocean becomes its own character with its vast shades of blue and green.
Overall, “Moana” is best Disney-animated film since “Tangled.” It is filled to the brim with mythology, has a great message for both children and adults about being who you want to be instead of what others think you should be, and what it lacks in diversity it makes up for in sheer fun. There is enough in this film for both adults and kids to enjoy it, so this is one you don’t want to miss.
Final Grade: B+