Directors Ron Clements, Don Hall
Starring the voices of Auli’I Cravalho, Dwayne Johnson, Rachel House, Jemaine Clement
Released 2nd December 2016
Disney’s really packing them in. August was comparatively quiet with the lower key Pete’s Dragon and October saw the arrival of the modest Queen Of Katwe. But the end of the year is nigh and so is the Christmas market. In two weeks’ time, it’s the next Star Wars movie, Rogue One (The Force Awakens was released at the same time last year). First, however, comes its latest animation and, while it’s early for the holidays, it points towards a very happy Disney Christmas this year. You’d think the studio had taken over the festive season from Dickens.
Not that it’s a film about holly and mistletoe. Moana is set in the South Seas, with all their natural beauty and colour – a gift to film makers and animators especially. The Moana (Auli’l Cravalho) of the title is a teenage girl, the teenage daughter of the chief of Motonui, who will lead her people one day. But she has an instinctive connection with the sea – something her father actively tries to prevent – and she wants to explore beyond the reef around the island. And eventually she breaks free, but with good reason. The island is slowly crumbling, the vegetation is dying and her people can’t feed themselves. And the reason is that demi-god, Maui (Dwayne Johnson) has stolen the stone at the heart of the island. She has to persuade him to bring it back.
It’s no small order, as Maui is a shapeshifter – when his large hook, forged by the gods, is behaving itself. When Moana finds him, his hook has been lost so he has no powers as such – except a fast tongue, which he uses to get rid of her. Or at least try, because she’s a determined, empowering and inspiring heroine, clear in her own mind that she’s fulfilling her destiny – both for herself and her people. And, even though she admits she doesn’t really know what she’s doing, she’s not allowing anything to stand in her way.
It’s a film that has more than a few echoes of the past, unlike one of Don Hall’s previous Big Hero Six. Moana has two pets, one of which comes along with her for the ride. Dim-witted isn’t the word when it comes to her chicken, Heihei. Well, actually it is. But it’s also a profoundly irritating creation which bears a striking resemblance to Becky, the goggle eyed bird in Finding Dory. Although this time HeiHei does have a part to play in the storyline.
The setting is lush – a rich abundance of colour and beautiful animation. Again, the sea floor has shades of Finding Dory. The voices are well chosen, especially the inspired selection of Dwayne Johnson as Maui, who has the right mixture of impudence, fun and masculinity. His tattoos are almost characters in their own right as well, disagreeing with him, sometimes being banished to other parts of his anatomy when he gets annoyed.
The music, and the songs especially, aren’t just bolted on either. They actually do contribute to the story and move things along or give us insights into the characters. Who would have guessed that The Rock had a half decent voice as well? If they can sort out the practicalities of the ocean on stage, I foresee a musical version in the next few years.
With its modern, feisty heroine, likeable rogue of a demi-god and sumptuous animation, Moana is a sure fire winner with families in the run-up to Christmas. It probably doesn’t have quite the level of originality we’ve seen in other films from the Mouse House, but it has plenty else going for it. It’s fresh enough and contemporary enough to round off what has been an extraordinary year of animation for Disney – Zootropolis was a triumph and Finding Dory not far behind it. Moana completes the trinity in joyous style.
Moana is released on Friday, 2 December and was reviewed on Talking Pictures on Thursday, 1 December