If a marketing agency comes up with the line “From the creators of Zootopia and Frozen” to promote Moana, you know you are in for something good. I would not say that Moana was as good as those two movies, but it is great for what it sets out to do.
2016 has been a really good year for Disney. It isn’t as good as Pixar were in their heyday, but they are better than Pixar have been in recent years. Moana is only a shade behind of Pete’s Dragon, The Jungle Book, Zootopia, and Queen of Katwe which were other movies Disney have released in 2016.
Moana is an adventure story about the titular character who is a young Samoan woman who is next in line to be the chief of her people. There is a problem with her community’s food supply as it is wasting away. She decides to sail across oceans to find the solution to the problem in which Mau, a demi-god (Dwayne Johnson) is involved in.
While I don’t think Moana is quite as good as Disney’s recent efforts, the filmmakers still put so much effort into making it fun and succeeding in the process. The songs are fun and people remember them, the animation is gorgeous and there is good character development in Moana the female protagonist. At least she is confident character going into the story. I wish more Disney movies go beyond “The Princess” as a stock character in the future.
There are also many scenes that are distinctive and it builds up to the climax really well. As much as that sounds like the standard thing to do, you would be surprised how many films don’t do that. There are scenes that are memorable in their own right. There is a scene involving a dumb chicken and another that had coconut pirates that looked epic, but I could tell it was well restrained. Which is a good thing because I am not a fan of films where their most memorable sequence is in the first third of the story.
One of the things that Moana could have done better was developing Maui the demi-god. While he had good entertaining moments and was funny, he came off as a bit arrogant. Which is fine, as long as the film addresses it.
There is a what I thought would be a pivotal scene in which Maui would come to realize his vulnerability and his rashness when he leaves Moana behind on her quest. Such a scene does not exist in Moana. Therefore it came off to me as Maui growing a conscience for no reason when he makes his return.
To be honest, that was my biggest criticism and that was only mildly offputting. It only stuck out because a lot of the story was done so well. It was like finding a stain on white clothing instead of a stain on a unhygienic person.
For the overly formulaic path of so many Disney movies about physical journeys being a metaphorical journey of self-discovery, Moana hits a lot of right notes. It is almost as good as you can get under the limitations of such a familiar path the filmmakers took to making the movie ***3/4