Film review by Jason Day of Moana, the Disney animation about a headstrong young girl in ancient Polynesia who enlists the help of a demigod to help save her community. With the voices of Dwayne Johnson and Auli’i Cravalho.
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Independent minded Polynesian girl Moana (Auli’i Cravalho) hankers for a life outside of her island community and feels born to sail the seven seas. But her father (Temuera Morrison) forbids her and anyone else from leaving the barrier reef around their land. When a plague threatens their home, Moana breaks his commandment and sets out to find the demigod Maui (Dwayne Johnson), who can help her return a jewel to the heart of their female God, thus restoring balance to the world and saving her people.
It was interesting to see this latest Disney animated fantasy follow a trailer for their live-action remake of Beauty and the Beast (1991). That film’s message being that inner beauty is of greater value than external aesthetics, even though the story only concludes when the beast is transmogrified into a stunning Chippendale type.
In Moana, the whole South Sea Island community are pillars of Polynesian physical perfection. Their land is a Xanadu-like utopia of beauty and safety and the people are a hearty song and dance race, where sexual dimorphism has clearly run rampant somewhere in their genetic past (are all the men literal gigantors?), unfettered by fear or ugliness. Evil doesn’t exist because, in a splendid example of native ignorance, they simply refuse to consider it.
The horrors of the world exist resolutely ‘out there’, hence why the only person who considers it a possibility, the ‘mad’ old Granny, is politely shunted out to the peripheraries to talk and dance with stingrays, a creature she determinedly wants to be reincarnated as. And, as voiced by Rachel House, she emerges as the most delightful and whimsical character in the whole film, and of course if very far from being crazy.
Is Disney shunting itself back to some halcyon day of yore with such wistful, historical fantasy, after all of their ‘modern’ cartoon outings? Does that explain why the logo of the company is of Mickey Mouse in his first full animated endeavour, charting the Steamboat Willie (1928)?
Not entirely, for despite the ancient setting this is a thoroughly modern, anachronistic story, as one would expect from Uncle Walt’s boyz and grrrlz. What viewers should not expect however is to hear the vocal talents (including singing! And good singing too) of Johnson anytime soon, for he ‘appears’ only after nearly 40 minutes have elapsed.
This helps to establish the film as being about Moana but, with yawning predictability, Disney’s story only sees its wonderfully established independent woman achieve her goals with a shovel-sized male helping hand. “If I go, no telling how far I’ll go” she sings; we are given the impression this girl can achieve anything, so why can’t the demigod’s presence merely help her realise this?
She clearly doesn’t need this ridiculously over-muscled superman (who, like that hero, is also afraid of glowing green gems) to show her anything.
The sheer size of Maui, who borders on the stockily obese, has attracted criticism from Pacific Island communities where there are long-standing concerns about people’s average weight. Some folkloric tellings represent him as being slimmer and more athletic, some shorter and bald.
To their credit, the producers note that he grew as the story did and this was after much consultation with native leaders and historical experts. They also threw in a hint as to his mental health problems after living on an rocky outcrop for a thousand years – schizophrenia, with frequent conversations with his many tattoos.
At least they chose the right frame of man to voice him in Johnson, whose booming tones fill an auditorium and certainly convey the ‘epic’ in man.
Cravalho, a 16 year old Hawaiian singer, bests him though with a strong and gutsy performance that is high on trills as well as punky charm.
It goes without saying that the quality of the animation is superb but I offer a note to this; its of such good quality, especially the background details and the ocean, is it animation? Mainstream animation is looking more and more like real life than ever before. If this continues, will this type of animation and live action become indistinguishable?
For more, see the trailer on the official website.
Cast & credits
Directors: Ron Clements, John Musker. 107mins. Disney. (PG)
Producer: Osnat Shurer.
Writer: Jared Bush.
Music: Mark Mancina.
Sets: Ian Gooding.
Dwayne Johnson, Auli’i Cravalho, Temuera Morrison, Rachel House, Jemaine Clement, Nicole Scherzinger, Alan Tudyk, Oscar Kightley.