Director: Ron Clements & John Musker.
Cast: (voices of) Auli'i Cravalho, Dwayne Johnson, Rachel House, Temuera Morrison, Jemaine Clement, Nicole Scherzinger, Alan Tudyk.
Maui and Moana embark on an epic adventure in the excellent Disney film Moana.
THE pantheon of Disney princesses is a big one, and each new arrival must find her place in the pecking order.
So is Moana more Ariel and Elsa (ie. intriguing and memorable) or more Sleeping Beauty and Tiana (ie. at the uninteresting and forgettable/forgotten end of the scale)?
The good news is Moana is the former, not the latter, both as a film and a character.
Disney’s new Polynesian princess is refreshing in many ways, particularly because her raison d'être is not to wed a prince and she is just as likely to do the rescuing as be rescued.
When her idyllic Pacific island home’s food supply starts to fall victim to a mysterious scourge, Moana (Cravalho) sets out to save her people by finding the long lost demi-god Maui (Johnson).
Legend has it that Maui created the scourge when he stole the goddess Te Fiti's heart – a pounamu stone bestowed upon Moana by the ocean itself and which must be returned to Te Fiti.
But saving her world will mean defying her father and sailing beyond the reef surrounding her home – something her people have not done for many generations.
Moana has a look and style that feels instantly iconic, and its use of Polynesian mythology to craft a new story gives it a classic quality. Blended with some great songs and the usual high-end CG animation, it’s another win in the House Of Mouse’s current streak of modern masterpieces (which includes Wreck-It Ralph, Frozen, Big Hero 6, and Zootopia for those of you playing along at home).
Its titular princess (actually a chief’s daughter) is key to the film’s success. Bold and brave but not totally fearless or without self-doubts, Moana is a wonderfully realised character that fits perfectly into the belated and very welcome recent trend of seeing stronger female leads in movies.
Her sparring partner Maui is also a great – the fallen-from-grace demi-god is brought to life perfectly by Johnson. His relationship with Moana is a highlight of the film – the story is largely a two-hander, with much of it set on a boat with just Maui and Moana present, so the movie’s success hinges a lot on their repartee.
There is one other minor character on the boat – a rooster called Heihei, who is voiced (and I’m using that word lightly) by Tudyk. Heihei has been described by director Clements as "the dumbest character in the history of Disney animation”, and he’s not wrong, but the rooster gets the biggest laughs from the youngest members of the audience. Cult status awaits Heihei.
The other character highlight is the gold-hoarding coconut crab Tamatoa, voiced by Flight Of The Conchords’ Clements. Tamatoa gets perhaps the best song of the film, a Bowie-esque number called Shiny, and is a great comedic villain. A couple of other songs, largely written by Lin-Manuel Miranda, are strong. How Far I’ll Go (sung by Cravalho) is the film’s Let It Go number, while Johnson has fun with the peppy and witty You’re Welcome.
Like Frozen, Moana meets the regal requirements of a great modern Disney princess movie, and best of all, manages to do so without ever really feeling like it’s a Disney princess movie.