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Moana (A Movie Review)

Updated: Mar 20, 2020



MOANA (2016)

Featuring the voices of Auli’i Cravalho, Dwayne Johnson, Rachel House, Temuera Morrison, Jemaine Clement, Nicole Scherzinger, Alan Tudyk, Oscar Kightley, Troy Polamalu, Puanani Cravalho, Jenica Bergere and Sisa Grey.

Screenplay by Jared Bush.

Directed by John Musker and Ron Clements.

Distributed by Walt Disney Pictures.  107 minutes.  Rated PG.

When you are thinking of the perfect star for an upbeat Disney comedy musical adventure, I’m going to bet the first actor’s name that comes to mind is not former wrestler Dwayne Johnson.

But credit where it’s due: The artist formerly known as The Rock takes on a voiceover part in Moana and hits it out of the park.  (I know, that is kind of a mixed-sports-metaphor for a former wrestler.  Maybe pins it to the mat or gets the take down?)

His role is smart, funny, and Johnson can even sing pretty well.  Color me impressed, I didn’t think he would have it in him.

In fact, Moana is a pleasant surprise in a multitude of levels, making a quick sprint up amongst Disney’s animated classics.  It feels right at home in the company of such classics as Aladdin, Beauty & the Beast, Frozen and last year’s Zootopia.  Suddenly, Pixar is no longer the hot star in the Disney animation galaxy.  The traditional studio productions are the ones suddenly worth paying attention to again.

With a smart, funny script and a terrifically tuneful score by Lin-Manuel Miranda (of Hamilton fame), Moana is arguably the best movie to come out of the Ink and Pencil Building at Disney’s Burbank Studios since The Lion King came out 23 years ago.  (Though Frozen and Zootopia could make that argument as well.)

This Polynesian fairy tale – a tropical adventure that shows that the Disney folks have come a long, long way since the Enchanted Tiki Room – is wonderfully specific to the world of its characters, at the same time as it is terrifically universal.

It tells the story of the title character, the young daughter of a tribal chief who has a case of wanderlust, even while living in paradise.  Moana is intrigued by the ocean and seeing what lays beyond it, much to the consternation of her father and his people, who believe they have found the perfect slice of Earth and no one should need anything more in life.

When a plague affects the community’s crops, Moana becomes certain that a legendary demigod named Maui (Johnson) is the answer to her land’s hopes.  She heads out to sea in search of Maui, but when she finds him she realizes that he is not as great and powerful as she had hoped.

Together, the demigod and the girl start an adventure which is both exciting and surprisingly funny.  Musically also, the film is a treat.

It is a Disney film, so it’s not that big a stretch to imagine that there will be a happy ending.  However, the great joy of Moana is in the journey – an imaginative, thrilling, humorous and musical voyage that leads to a fine film.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2016 All rights reserved. Posted: December 26, 2016.

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