Moana Takes Disney to New Heights
Disney’s track record with their animated features in the last couple years has been stellar, whichever way you look at it- and I’m not even talking about Pixar. Tangled set off a brand-new wave of animated features for Disney and it took them into a whole new world (shameful pun.) Frozen skyrocketed the Disney animation studio with Oscar wins and record-smashing box office returns (and more Halloween costumes than I’ve ever seen in my life). So, where does this leave Disney’s latest venture, Moana? Well, it leaves them climbing another rung on that ladder of success.
Her [Cravalho]'s voice work feels genuine as a human being, not just a Disney character in a Disney world
Let’s get this out of the way first, Moana is absolutely stunning. The entirety of the film, from the culture, to the characters, to the atmosphere and environment, is breathtakingly beautiful. What Moana achieves with flying colors is in its ability to showcase the themes and culture of Pacific Islanders in a very genuine light. No matter what happens, I’m sure there will always be controversy over Disney movies, but to me there was nothing done in poor taste throughout Moana.
Auli’I Cravalho leads our voice cast as the titular character and nails every moment of her heroine on screen. She’s rife with passion and riddled with wonderment. Her voice work feels genuine as a human being, not just a Disney character in a Disney world. She’s believable as a person, which helps ground the film in a “Disney” sort of realism. There have been plenty of times where Disney has seemed to just stretch their reach a little too far, but with Moana the world feels…correct. It just feels right. Cravalho and Dwayne Johnson’s bickering throughout the film in their Moana and Maui is excellent. Both characters are interesting and unique, Maui more so than I thought he would be. I figured our big demi-god would be a fun character to have on screen but he’s written more beautifully than I expected, and with Johnson’s sense of innocence, Maui easily becomes one of the most intriguing characters Disney has offered up in recent years. But our leads are not all that impress in this film.
Maui easily becomes one of the most intriguing characters Disney has offered up in recent years.
What would a Disney film be without a score of songs and musical interludes to weave the film into something even more powerful? Lin-Manuel Miranda’s composition for Moana creates a delightful contrast between the unique and the inspired. If you don’t know Miranda’s name, I don’t know what to tell you. That seems almost impossible at this point. His music and lyrics for Moana are something that will stick with you well after you’ve left the theater. As the songs played out and the cast sang with a crashing passion, I felt a twinge of excitement at the inspired sounds of Miranda’s score. Throughout the solos I heard a little Phil Collins, rushing me back to the days of Tarzan, and I couldn’t have been more thrilled to feel that nostalgia hit me in the theater. Whether it’s Lin himself singing over the film, or the characters singing their songs within the universe, there’s a touch of Collins that ramps Moana up with musical integrity. This can be heard mostly during Moana's solo How Far I'll Go, my personal favorite song on the soundtrack; though Dwayne Johnson's You're Welcome is a very close second. Then, of course, there's also the strong David Bowie inspiration for the villain song Shiny which was a cute homage to the late and great Bowie.
Lin-Manuel Miranda’s composition for Moana creates a delightful contrast between the unique and the inspired.
While Moana’s strengths vastly out way its weaknesses, it is not without its minor setbacks, as with any film. But here’s the thing I’d like to point out: my slight issues with Moana are very nitpicky, which I believe says a lot about the film as a whole. It didn’t have any glaring problems. There was nothing that took me completely out of the film. The biggest gripe I had with Moana was just how aware of itself it was. Disney tends to knock on that fourth wall every so often, as they do with all their films. It just felt to me like they knocked just a little too hard with Moana. I don’t need a character to tell me they’re about to sing a song, just sing the song. I don’t need an ancient Polynesian demi-god to make a joke about Twitter; cute as it was, it just fell flat for breaking down that sense of environmental realism. At times, it felt like Disney was trying just too hard to make light of itself. Disney, you don’t need to make light of yourself. We know what you are and we know what you’re good at, just keep doing it.
The biggest gripe I had with Moana was just how aware of itself it was.
Some of the jokes and zingers may have fallen a little flat but the beautifully relaxing musical score and vocal talents of the cast more than make up for these very minor issues. Moana is a strong enough movie on its own without the Disney brand name. The characters are fun and interesting. The music is riveting. And who could forget the Mad Max: Fury Road-inspired ocean chase sequence? That’s right, that’s something that happened. The talents of Moana shine through in many different aspects, from the vocal talent, to the music, to the story, to the visuals, and far beyond. None of these aspects rely on the others to help carry them through, they only lend to strengthen each other in a magical sense of team effort. Moana is fantastic, for adults and children alike, and I’m gearing up for all the fun Halloween costumes and cosplays to come in the months ahead.