By Corey Davies
I love cartoons. I have a particular fondness for Disney films; and I’ve yet to find one that follows what I’d consider the ‘Classic Disney formula’ involving a female lead, an animal companion and musical numbers that I don’t enjoy on some level. So knowing this I went to see Moana with high hopes, and I’m glad to say in the end I’ve not been disappointed.
Saying that, we’re going to start with what I didn’t find particularly engaging about the film before I get lost ranting about all the things I enjoyed. First and foremost, I’m disappointed to say the worst thing about the film is Moana herself; paradoxically with the setting and story as large as they were Moana just doesn’t have room to grow. Don’t get me wrong, she’s entertaining and her story is compelling; but with the world around her being full of detail and the story being so huge her development as a character gets forgotten and she finishes the film exactly as she began it without having grown or changed. Instead, everyone around her changes to fit her point of view. As an example of this same idea executed really well, I’d compare it to Lilo and Stich, the other Disney film set in Polynesia; over time every other character changes to Lilo’s point of view, but Lilo herself still changes and gains something through the course of the film. Moana, in contrast, is introduced to us as a fully formed character who’s good at everything; she can run the village; she can sail well enough; she’s as confident in her choices without ever being arrogant enough to not like (she does have a brief wobble in the final act but honestly, blink and you miss it). This never changes, the Moana we see in the first ten minutes is the same as the Moana in the last ten minutes of the film; she is, however, the current to the plots ocean, moving every piece along to its final conclusion, she’s a great plot device, I’m still not convinced she’s a great character.
Secondly, I’m not sold on the song ‘How Far I’ll Go’. It feels too much like an effort to recapture the lightning in a bottle that was Frozen’s, ‘Let it Go’. While the song is still enjoyable, it’s not nearly as enjoyable as the rest of the songs in the film. The soundtrack is penned by Lin-Manuel Miranda, the man behind the Broadway show Hamilton, and it’s abundantly clear why Hamilton is such a runaway success. Miranda has a talent for making songs that are fun, memorable and advance the plot. His skill really comes across, for me, in two of the songs; ‘You’re Welcome’ sung by Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson establishes the second half of a world creation saga and sounds as if Johnson was well and truly loving every second of being Maui; and ‘Shiny’, sung by Jemaine Clement (of ‘Flight of the Conchords’ fame), not only involves some stunning visuals, but clues us into a hidden aspect of Maui’s story, and is so well suited to the mannerisms of Clement it’s almost unreal.
The cast overall is wonderfully chosen and as a consequence voice acting throughout the film is consistently great, Clement being a personal highlight where every line is solid gold in its delivery. As previously mentioned The Rock delivers a stellar performance that’s made so enjoyable by the fact he seems to be enjoying himself so much. Auli’i Cravalho brings passion and comedy to her role as the title character. I’m also going to mention the fact Hei Hei the chicken was voiced by Alan freaking Tudyk of all people because I just found that out and I need to tell everyone.
Overall, while I came out of Moana initially underwhelmed thinking it’d be forgettable, it only grew on me over time and I found I couldn’t get the songs or the story out of my head. It is one hundred percent a film I recommend to go see when you get a chance and I’ve probably already recommended it at least once to everyone I’ve spoken to since I first saw it.