Thursday, December 01, 2016
MOANA (Ron Clements, Don Hall, John Musker, and Chris Williams, 2016)
A tribe on an island in the Pacific has everything it needs in MOANA and thus lacks the impulse to explore what is beyond their home. For the teenage Moana (Auli’i Cravalho), this conservatism can be frustrating, as she has an adventurous soul. When the coconut harvests yield spoiled crops and fish vanish from the waters inside the reef, Moana’s suggestions to go outside their comfort zone are overruled by her father, Chief Tui (Temuera Morrison).
Moana’s grandmother Tala (Rachel House), something of a free spirit herself, encourages Moana to follow her instincts. She sets her on a course to find the Polynesian demigod Maui (Dwayne Johnson) and help him return the heart of Te Fiti, an island goddess’ stone he stole. His theft, which he did to please humans, unleashed the darkness upon the world that is now causing the problems at home. With her own wits and the help of the ocean--her stupid pet rooster Heihei provides no assistance--Moana goes on her journey to save everything and everyone she loves.
MOANA fits safely within the Walt Disney animated musical tradition but makes enough variations on their princess movies to keep it from feeling stagnant. There’s no love interest around to sidetrack her from the matter at hand, and her animal sidekick is of negligible use. Johnson’s voice work as Maui and the gags with a mini version of the character tattooed on the buff demigod deliver much of MOANA’s humor. Despite his status in the universe, he’s often brought down to size by the film’s plucky heroine.
The South Pacific setting allows the animators to impress with the tropical landscapes, and as much of the film taking place on the ocean, they also get to showcase the latest and greatest in replicating water with computers. The songs by Opetaia Foa’i, Mark Mancina, and Broadway superstar of the moment Lin-Manuel Miranda provide an injection of bright fun. Mancina and Miranda’s “Shiny”, performed by FLIGHT OF THE CONCHORDS’ Jemaine Clement as a treasure-hoarding crab, is a highlight, especially with the funny and nightmarish visual accompaniment.
While the animation dazzles, MOANA can feel a little too familiar to stand out from its numerous competitors. In this regard the slender tale may be hurt somewhat by its economy of characters. Other than the two primaries, the ocean itself probably has the most impactful presence.