Director: Ron Clements, John Musker

Cast: Dwayne Johnson, Auli’l Cravalho, Temuera Morrison, Nicole Scherzinger, Jemaine Clement, Alan Tudyk

Classification: PG (Some Scenes May Scare Young Children)

Review by Peter Gray

Audiences have been quite spoilt for choice in the fields of animation over the course of 2016 (‘Zootopia’ and ‘Kubo and the Two Strings’ to name but a few), so when another title comes along it’s understandable if you don’t immediately stand up to pay attention.  And whilst Disney’s latest creation ‘Moana’ may falter slightly in its overall story structure (it admittedly feels familiar) and lack of musical diversity (the songs tend to appear recycled), there’s still no denying that the film’s vibrant texture brings a sense of freshness to the familiar, along with the crispness of the animation that raises this beautiful film to Disney’s (already) high standard.

A light musical that adopts a more Polynesian folklore tale mentality, ‘Moana’ makes the most of its island setting, allowing the animators to indulge our senses with every drop of water and grain of sand coming off as nothing less than a sumptuous view to our eager eyes.  It’s also to the film’s advantage that, apart from Dwayne Johnson’s booming vocal work as demigod Maui, the majority of the cast are unknown or less distinguishable voices, allowing ‘Moana’ to operate on its own accord.

In typical Disney fashion ‘Moana’ is a film with a message but it’s one that isn’t hammered over our heads, so the film’s path in highlighting one’s following of their own destiny and never giving up feels natural rather than necessary.  The one following her own path is the titular Moana (Auli’l Cravalho), the headstrong and fiercely independent heir to her tribe’s chief (Temuera Morrison), who is chosen by the ocean – a strong supporting player if ever there was one – to trek the seas to find the aforementioned Maui (voiced to charismatic perfection by Johnson), a showy demigod who is in possession of a pebble-like artefact that serves as the heart of the isle that keeps the Polynesian island alive.

There’s a song or two along the way (Johnson’s mansplaining tune “You’re Welcome” is deliriously catchy), a dim-witted chicken serving as Moana’s unlikely sidekick, a run-in with a tribe of coconut shaped creatures whose bite is bigger than their bark (in a sequence seemingly inspired by ‘Mad Max: Fury Road’), and a wonderfully Bowie-esque turn from Jemaine Clement as a giant treasure-hoarding crab who has unfinished business with Maui, and it’s just as entertaining as it sounds.  Additionally, ‘Moana’ holds a great deal of heart, hope, danger and excitement, and proves just as valuable a watch for adults as it does for its intended younger audience.

‘Moana’ may not be the most original Disney film from a structural standpoint but it’s nonetheless a beautiful picture that owns its optimism and revels in its fairytale mindset.

My rating: 4/5

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