Film Review: MOANA (USA 2016) ****

moanaDirected by Ron Clements and John Musker

Stars: Auli’i Cravalho, Dwayne Johnson, Rachel House

Review by Gilbert Seah

MOANA (pronounced MO-ANNAH) is a 2016 American 3D computer-animated musical fantasy comedy adventure film produced by Walt Disney Animation Studios, the first time the Studios have released two features in a year. No complaints here. Like ZOOTOPIA (or ZOOTROPOLIS as it is called in the U.K.), both are exceptional animated features full of wonder, magic and entertainment. The film features music written by Lin-Manuel Miranda, Opetaia Foa’i, and Mark Mancina. The songs are as original as they are catchy, especially the one entitled “You’re Welcome!”

MOANA the film tells the story of Moana (the excellent voice of newcomer Auli’i Cravalho) , the strong-willed daughter of the chief in a Polynesian tribe, who is chosen by the ocean itself to reunite a mystical relic with a goddess. When a blight strikes her island, Moana sets sail in search of Maui (Dwayne Johnson, who yes, also sings in the film), a legendary demigod, in the hope of saving her people.

First and most important of all, the animation is nothing short of stunning from the depiction of water, fire, magic and in characters like the fiery lava monster.

Like ZOOTOPIA, the plot involves saving of the world the characters are living in. MOANA lives in an island paradise that is deteriorating. The fishing is depleting and the land is losing its fertility. Like in ZOOTOPIA that mirrors the problems of the modern world, MOANA also highlights the importance of the environment as seen in the oceans and islands.

Besides the seriousness of the plot, MOANA maintains the expectations of a Disney cartoon. MOANA contains lots of cutesy characters, like Moana’s pet piglet and her pet chicken – reported as the dumbest ever of all the Disney characters. The chicken called Heihei pecks at stones and rocks, that requires Moana’s saving and attention more than anything else. But Heihei is a winning inspirational character judging from the sounds of the chuckles of the children in the audience during the screening I attended.

The film contains frightening scenes that might not be appropriate for younger children. The sight of the lava monster attacking poor Moana and Maui might be too much, even though it sends the message across for older kids. The film also deals with death (the dying grandmother) and the hardship of living (as in fishing and farming).

The film plays like a fairytale. Who does not like a good old fairy tale? Moana is inched on by her late grandmother in the form of a stingray to accomplish the quest she was born to achieve – to save her tribe and perhaps all humanity while at it.

Dwayne Johnson, who can do no harm at any film he is in (watch out for him next in BAYWATCH) is excellent as the reluctant hero, Maui. I cannot imagine anyone better to voice the heroine MOANA than Auli’i Cravalho.

MOANA turns out to be excellent entertainment for both adults and children. It contains Disney’s most important elements – magic and wonder, which make the film stand out against all the other animation features from the other studios.






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