Disney has been wildly successful with their recent string of brilliantly innovative animated movies. Films such as Frozen and Zootopia have broken box office records, gained worldwide acclaim and produced heaps of merchandise. Their latest venture, Moana, is—or should be—no different than its successors. Set in ancient Polynesia, the film follows Moana Waialiki—voiced by newcomer Auli’i Cravalho—as she attempts to find the lost demi-god Maui, who stole the heart of the goddess Te Fiti 1,000 years ago. Her goal is to bring Maui—voiced by Dwayne Johnson—and the heart back home to the island of Motunui in order to restore its vegetation, despite her father’s fear of what lays beyond the reef.
Moana may be creating a great deal of buzz, but not for its storyline. The movie has a generally linear and typical plot: the heroine sets out on an expedition to save her family and her home, along with a comedic sidekick—in this case Heihei, the corky chicken—to test her worth, despite a parent’s possible disapproval. This standard storyline prohibits the film from getting off the ground until Moana sets out on her journey.
But this slow start does not lessen the cinematic experience. Although we may predict the ending of Moana because of its common formula, what really matters about this film experience is the journey.
In typical Disney fashion, the animation is incredible. Whether set on Moana’s home island of Motunui or in the middle of the ocean with Moana and Maui encountering Te Fiti as the fiery and brimstone goddess, the tropical Polynesian setting is an amazing and almost breathtaking choice compared to other Disney settings seen in films like Frozen or Tangled.
Since most of Moana and Maui’s journey takes place in the middle of the ocean, the film explores its various aspects. On its surface, a serene atmosphere and HeiHei’s comic relief comfort the audience. But underneath the ocean, we are exposed to the unique Realm of the Monsters, which serves as a parallel, underwater universe.
Additionally, what makes Moana special is its mixed structure of diverse components, as Moana is an individualistic heroine. Not only are the film’s characters Polynesian—a diverse representation of people, compared to recent Disney films—but also Moana has a distinct body shape. She is not your typical Disney princess with “perfect” features; instead, she’s unique and curvy, which is something refreshing to see in a film from a franchise that usually celebrates Barbie-like figures in its heroines.
With that being said, Moana is also one of the most admirable and interesting Disney princesses yet. She is incredibly beautiful, but strong, always willing to stand her ground—qualities other Disney princesses seem to share, but not to the same extent or authenticity as Moana.
Along with this diverse representation comes an incredible soundtrack written by Opetaia Foa’i, Mark Mancina and “Hamilton”’s Lin-Manuel Miranda. Miranda—riding high on his recent musical success—provides a fresh sound that is both classically Disney, yet also modern, making this soundtrack stand out from other franchise films.
The songs are enthusiastic and moving, providing the perfect emotional tone for the film. Some are sung in English, while others are in Tokelauan, which is a native Polynesian language.
All that’s really left is for Moana to get the credit it deserves from Disney fans and movie lovers alike. Moana is an exhilarating masterpiece amongst a throng of similar Disney princess stories, and should be appreciated for its authenticity and diversity.