Ron Clements & John Musker's MOANA
Movie review by Dennis D. McDonald
Moana is a gorgeous feature-length musical cartoon that partially breaks the Disney "princess" mold. Young Moana in this case is a South Sea islands princess but has no romance or love interest. Instead the story centers on her quest to save her people from a progressing natural disaster that is gradually destroying their way of life.
Does she succeed?
Well, I'm not going away any spoilers here but do keep in mind that this is a Disney movie. What enables Moana to rise above its rather thin plot are the animation and the "demigod" character voiced by Dwayne Johnson.
The animation and natural settings are luscious and picturesque. You can't help but be drawn into the happy scenes of the native village singing as they go about their daily routines of coconut picking and fishing.
Dwayne Johnson's character is physically, cosmetically, and action-wise the heart of the movie's appeal. He's simultaneously reluctant as he is drawn into Moana's quest and entertainingly brave, strong, and thickheaded, often simultaneously. His character animation perfectly matches his physicality and personality.
Songs are sprinkled throughout and fit the film but are not what I would call memorable. Let's call them serviceable.
Some movie elements do, in my opinion, detract somewhat from Moana's complete success.
Moana does have animal sidekicks that are designed to project cuteness and zaniness. They're not completely successful but I'm not a five-year-old. Another disappointment is one of the "monsters" that must be defeated in order to complete the movie's quest. I was hoping for something more evil like, say that personality of Oogie Boogie in Nightmare Before Christmas but, again, I'm not a five-year-old.
The conclusion, a spectacular island transformation, is a wonder to behold. It projects what some might refer to as the strong-arm feminist element that is displayed throughout the film.
Having just re-watched Pixar's Inside-Out, I can't help but compare the two. Moana is, story and character wise, much more traditional than Inside-Out. The latter is jampacked with much more creativity and imagination. Obviously they are two very different films and each displays amazing animation, with the extensive water work in Moana being very impressive. Character-wise, I would give the nod for more subtle and expressive facial animation to Pixar especially in the character of Riley as she works through the complex emotional arc of her character.
But the two are very different films, one very traditional in its approach to story and humor, the other much more wildly creative. I enjoyed them both.
Copyright (c) 2017 by Dennis D. McDonald