Moana Review

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By: Justin Jasso (@jjasso007)

If you were given to opportunity to own a company, which would it be? Microsoft? Apple? How about trying Disney? With everything they’re involved in these days, from the huge success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe to acquiring the rights to Star Wars, plus the expansion of theme parks (Star Wars Land at Disneyland; anyone excited??), Disney has, for lack of a better term, the Midas touch. Everything it touches is turning into gold. And, just in case you ever wanted to feel less than wealthy, this year, Disney has earned, per minute, just over $1 million. And we shouldn’t expect these revenues to slow anytime soon as, this holiday weekend, Disney’s latest animated film has now hit theaters with the island adventure, Moana.

On Motonui Island, young Moana (Auli’i Cravalho) lives with her people, under the leadership of her father, Chief Tui (Temuera Morrison). One day, she too will be chief, and will be expected to uphold the laws laid down from her father and those before him. Yet, at a young age, Moana was chosen by the sea for a far greater purpose. When the island’s crops start dying and the local fishing spots disappear from around the island, Moana takes it upon herself to help. She must find the demigod Maui (Dwayne Johnson), who must reverse a curse he started so long ago, before the people of the world are eventually wiped out. Armed with nothing except her determination, a less than intelligent chicken named HeiHei (this is probably the dumbest sidekick character you will EVER experience, and I dare you to find one that is dumber), she must defy her father’s rule of never going “beyond the reef” and set sail in search for Maui and to cure that which afflicts the world.

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Ron Clements and Don Hall co-direct the film, putting it in VERY good hands. Between the two of them, they previously directed The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, Hercules, The Princess and the Frog, and Big Hero 6, to name a few. Not a bad list of previous Disney films. Thus, we’re taken back to solid story elements and characters with room for growth. Unlike most of those previous films, though, this one is completed computer generated, and looks absolutely gorgeous, with stunning visuals that provide insight into island life that we, living outside of island communities, probably cannot relate to. Watching Moana almost makes you feel as if you are walking in the dense vegetation found around Hawaii. We are also taken back to the Disney musical, which most of the aforementioned films are known for. Much like the songs we all know and love from the previous films, such as “Under the Sea,” “A Whole New World,” and “Go the Distance,” Moana has its own new song which I’m sure you’ll be hearing for the next six months or more with “How Far I’ll Go.” Where Moana truly differs from previous Disney films is that there is a complete lack of a romantic plot or subplot. There is zero romance in this film: it’s about characters dealing with inner conflicts and finding our way in life, along with meeting new people and being open to their experience and influence on our lives. Disney has made a statement with this film that a Disney princess does not need a prince to define them.

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In this type of film, the story cannot be told with such authenticity without a great supporting voice acting cast. Auli’i Cravalho is a newcomer to acting, films, voice acting…anything media related. She beat out hundreds of other potential actors to win the coveted role of Moana, and she makes it her own. Being from Hawaii, Cravalho is able to bring that experience to the development of Moana through the characters situations, and fits in even better with her wonderful singing voice. There is one particular dramatic moment where I didn’t necessarily believe the character’s sadness, as it felt Cravalho was forcing an emotion that wasn’t really there for her, but she’s young and she will get better with experience and training. The only known actor here is Dwayne Johnson, better known for being The Rock in the WWE and for his role in the Fast and the Furious installments. Much like his animated character, both are built like giant athlete demigods. I will be honest and say I was skeptical of Johnson voicing an animated character, and one with major screen time at that, and while I don’t think he hits on every scene, overall, he gives the character life and has a few LOL moments as well. The possible scene stealer is that of the world’s dumbest sidekick, HeiHei, which you kind of feel for but it’s just hilarious to watch how brainless he/she is (it never really says if it’s a boy or girl).

Moana is old-school Disney with new age technology, taking from what made Disney films so successful in the past by focusing on story, the depth of the characters, and providing themes and environments which enrich the narrative. Like Frozen, Moana knows where its strengths lie and builds upon those. And, like Frozen, Moana will be just as successful. Moana reinforces that life rule that you can do whatever you want and be successful at whatever you strive for, so long as you dedicate yourself to the task and go after your goals. It’s about finding who you are in life, and realizing that there’s more to you; that you are capable of so much more than you probably ever thought you were. Moana is a film for all ages, will be appreciated by the masses, and is a great way for Disney to close out the year of 2016.

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Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars


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