Moana (2016)
Moana poster Rating: 8.0/10 (38,012 votes)
Director: Ron Clements, Don Hall, John Musker, Chris Williams
Writer: Jared Bush (screenplay), Ron Clements (story by), John Musker (story by), Chris Williams (story by), Don Hall (story by), Pamela Ribon (story by), Aaron Kandell (story by), Jordan Kandell (story by)
Stars: Auli'i Cravalho, Dwayne Johnson, Rachel House, Temuera Morrison
Runtime: 107 min
Rated: PG
Genre: Animation, Adventure, Comedy
Released: 23 Nov 2016
Plot: In Ancient Polynesia, when a terrible curse incurred by the Demigod Maui reaches an impetuous Chieftain's daughter's island, she answers the Ocean's call to seek out the Demigod to set things right.

Disney’s animation studio has undergone quite a revival in recent years.  After a decade which gave us the average-at-best efforts of films such as Dinosaur, Atlantis: The Lost Empire, Treasure Planet, Home on the Range, and the genuinely diabolical Chicken Little, the studio was put under the supervision of Pixar head John Lasseter.  The following years saw a return to the ‘traditional’ Disney approach with films such as The Princess and The Frog, Frozen, and Tangled, whilst still being a little creative with Wreck-It Ralph and Big Hero 6.   Now, with their latest outing, Moana, the studio have drawn inspiration from Polynesian mythology, and have once again delivered a beautifully crated animation, with yet another ear-worm of a main song!

Moana (voiced by Auli’I Cravalho) is the daughter of the chief of a Polynesian tribe.  The ocean spirit itself chose her at an early age to reunite a mystical relic with the island goddess that it was stolen from by the demigod Maui (Dwayne Johnson).  When she is sixteen, the dark blight that was started when Maui took the relic reaches her island.  Against her father’s will, Moana sets sail to find Maui and get him to return that which he stole, but in doing so she finds he is not keen on the plan, and he steals her boat to seek his magical fishhook, the source of his powers.  Moana accompanies him, and along their journey they face monsters, pirates, and island spirits in an adventure packed with mythical inspiration, and lots of fun.

The film is an animated treat to watch, with some beautifully realised sequences, and visually spectacular location designs that make you notice even the minutest of background detail.  It’s amazing how far water effects in animation have come over the past decade, and whilst the recent Finding Dory looked as good as Nemo did all those years back when it wowed audiences, Moana actually realises it a lot better, and makes Dory look dated by comparison.  Character design is also well modelled, with Moana’s very movements capturing her fiery determination purely on a visual level, and Maui’s egotistical stubbornness played out in ever pose and stance.  Not forgetting the additional design of Maui’s tattoo’s, which add some humour (and backstory) to the proceedings.

But stunning animation would be wasted if the story and voice cast are lacking, but in Moana herself we have one of the best realised Disney lead characters of all time.  It is a cold heart who doesn’t swiftly find themselves caring for the journey of such a well-defined character, her independent streak seeming genuine and heartfelt, as opposed to the usual ‘I rebel’ blandness films force on a character just to progress story.  Maui’s character is crafted to be initially annoying in his stubbornness, but as the film progresses his actions start to make sense, and hints to his backstory (some via the aforementioned tattoos) actually make you empathise with his nature.  In providing the voices, Cravalho and Johnson bring the pair to majestic life.  Throw in some entertaining side characters, including a band of pirates inspired by Max Max: Fury Road (seriously), and the whole journey is epic in scale, and leaves you wanting more in a good way – it would be great to explore the mythology of Maui further in sequels.

Moana is another strong entry into the pantheon of Disney animations, and is immediately accessible to all ages, carrying a positive message without feeling patronising.  Indeed, I’d even say it is a better film than Frozen was.  Oh, yeah…and it has this amazing song in it also….

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