Cast: Auli’i Cravalho, Dwayne Johnson, Rachel House, Temuera Morrison, Nicole Scherzinger
Directors: Jon Musker, Ron Clements
Moana is Disney’s first Polynesian princess. She is the daughter of the chief of an island in the South Pacific. But Moana doesn’t consider herself a princess at all. Her name means Ocean and the vast, blue seas call to her. But her father has seen the water cause death and he won’t let her go beyond the reef. When a deathly darkness spreads over their island, Moana breaks his rule, takes a boat and sails to find the source. Her companion on this adventure is a demigod named Maui, voiced by Dwayne Johnson. He’s a fast-talking, shape-shifter who helps Moana save her people.
The downside here is that the film is predictable and formulaic – the courageous, female protagonist who conquers all is now a part of the Disney pantheon – think of the fabulous Merida in Brave or the tomboy Mulan or Elsa in Frozen. Moana is the latest. And of course every Princess needs an animal sidekick – here it’s a mercifully silent, fabulously dimwitted chicken. So there are no surprises but the film functions like comfort food – it’s reassuring, visually stunning and relentlessly charming.
Moana has four directors – Ron Clements and John Musker are the directors while Don Hall and Chris Williams are the co-directors. Between them, they conjure up enough magic to keep you enthralled while the conventional narrative plays out. The film also has show-stopping songs by Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda. All of which is topped by Johnson’s voice performance. Maui is a preening, insecure, witty and conflicted companion who fills this journey with a sustained delight.
There has been conversation and criticism in American media about the film’s representation of Pacific Islander cultures and the level of authenticity here. But for those of us who aren’t familiar with this world, Moana is a fine introduction.