Though Pixar often is noted as one of the best-animated storytellers of the west, with the return of John Musker and Ron Clements, who made some of Disney’s classic tales, we are reminded why the House of Mouse has long been the pinnacle of animated storytelling.
Review (with Spoilers)
Generally, I shy away from musicals for, as noted in the Kinky Boots review, only a handful of songs I like and the rest I suffer through. However, there is always an exception made for Disney. For even though the magic and replay value of their 90s songs has long been gone (I still do not understand the love for “Let It Go”), they still can pull tears out of your ducts and remind you why, even if you are way past their targeted market, the reason you fell in love with the company as a kid.
Moana (Auli’I Cravalho) | Maui (Dwayne Johnson) | Gramma Tala (Rachel House) | Chief Tui (Temuera Morrison) | Hei Hei (Alan Tudyk)
For a generation, Chief Tui has forbidden his people to explore the world beyond their island’s reef. Something his mother Tala understands the reason for but doesn’t agree with at all. Especially as the island begins to no longer be the resource-rich home it once was. Enter Moana. She, like her father when he was young, has a sense of adventure in her, something no matter how many times she is warned, her dad can’t force out of her. So, as she sees her home dying, and her dad preps her to become the chief, she takes her people’s fate beyond the reef and seeks out Maui. A demigod who, according to legend, thanks to him taking the heart of Tahiti, released a darkness onto the world which is why Moana’s people are facing the peril they are.
It Will Make You Cry
Death and rejection are a huge part in modern animated stories, and not just within anime. Disney, as long as I can remember, would always have a dead parent or a misfit somewhere in its movie. This one is no different but, arguably, it isn’t like before. Just take Maui for example. His backstory of how he became a demi-god is heartbreaking in a way. That on top of the reason why Tui doesn’t want his people venturing past the reef, and what Cravalho through her voice, and the various animators and writers, bring to Moana’s story. For while there is this little small part of me which wishes to compare this to Musker and Clements past work, which in some ways they nod to, this film reminds me of something. It reminds me of why people like Floyd Norman love working at Disney and why we, from pampers through our adult years, laugh, cry, and create more and more fond memories of their products.
It Will Make You Laugh*
Okay, if you are a kid, or can appreciate humor made for children, between Maui and Hei Hei you’ll find quite a few chuckles here and there. The ocean also plays a role in the laughter as we see it interact with Maui, Hei Hei, and especially its interactions with Moana.
On The Fence
In fact, Maui even jokes about it. A young princess, though technically chief’s daughter, with her animal, Hei Hei, going on an adventure. But while the story seems familiar, and at times may remind you of The Little Mermaid in terms of Moana’s relationship with her dad, Maui’s tattoo companion reminding you of some of the animation in Hercules, Moana kind of looking like a slightly older Lilo, and I could go on, the familiarity ultimately helps you connect with the film. For as you pick up on what perhaps is Clements and Musker tipping their hat to their past work, it reminds you of what those movies made you feel and it makes you connection to this new movie of theirs even stronger. Sort of like how, for some, the new J.K. Rowling movie I’m sure brings up old emotions from reading, or watching Harry Potter.
Overall: Positive (Worth Seeing)
While it is formulaic, and also the songs may not be instant classics, it is funny, it has depth, it has a sense of culture, and honestly as Disney tries to diversify and stray away from its classic princesses, it continues to be a step forward. Reminding you the house of mouse need not depend on Pixar for it remains the juggernaut of the industry it damn near built. A title, and role, even with the occasional hiccup, it seems it may never lose even with its founder long passed.