There are so many reasons to love Disney’s much-anticipated new animated film, Moana. Let’s start with the title character herself. Who and what Moana is is as important to us as an audience in the twenty-first century as what she represents. For generations, we have grown up with Disney animations giving us strong female characters who are looking to be saved by brave, yet flawed, male characters who must fall in love with them for their inner beauty. Damsels in distress, trapped in castle towers by evil stepmothers.
Moana (voiced by Auli’i Cravalho) is not a “Disney Princess”. She is not an orphan (hurrah!) but in fact has two healthy, happy and loving parents – Chief Tui (Temuera Morrison) and Sina (Nicole Scherzinger) – who are very much alive. Even better still, she has a beautiful grandmother, Gramma Tala (Rachel House) who is considered by their people as slightly eccentric as she is always telling scary monster stories to the children and dancing on the beach. Moana is not looking to be saved by Prince Charming, nor is she looking for love or validation from any man.
So who is Moana and what is all the fuss about?Set on a Polynesian island called Motunui where the villagers live off the island’s abundant coconuts and fish caught from the reef, Moana is being “groomed” to take over as Chief one day. As she grows up, she begins to take on a leadership role among her community, but she always feels a strong calling to take to the sea. When the palm trees begin to die and the fish start to disappear, she wants to sail beyond the reef to find food but is warned by her father to stay close.
Not to be deterred and with a strong calling by the ocean to follow her destiny, Gramma Tala reveals to Moana that her ancestors are voyagers who once sailed across the ocean on journeys of discovery until a demi-god named Maui (Dwayne Johnson) stole the heart of Te Fiti, the island goddess, a millennium ago, and brought a curse on them, turning green islands into deadly volcanoes. Tala tells Moana that in order to save her people, she must find Maui and force him to return the heart to Te Fiti.
With the dumbest sidekick you have ever seen, a rooster named HeiHei (Alan Tudyk), as her sailing companion, Moana braves the storms and never wavers from her ultimate goal. Any moments of doubt and fear are allayed by her grandmother in the form of a beautiful manta ray. Along the way, they confront a giant coconut crab, Tamatoa (Jemaine Clement), who loves anything shiny, face-off with a group of pygmy pirates (shaped like, what else, coconuts) called Kakamora, and battle the wrath of Te Ka, the lava demon who will stop at nothing to prevent anyone from getting near Te Fiti.
Moana is packed with action and plenty of adventures on the high seas. This is a film for all ages with humour that transcends language – a rooster that is like a dippy bird requires no words to make you laugh. Motunui reminds us what it is like to live in a community where people respect each other, no matter how eccentric they think you are. There is a sense of belonging – acknowledging your heritage and being proud of who you are. And Maui is generally misunderstood, not understanding that his actions, no matter how well-intentioned, have consequences that can affect the future.
Of course, no discussion of Moana would be complete without mentioning the music. After all, this is a Disney movie. Riding on a ridiculous wave of highs in the last couple of years, multi-Tony Award-winning Lin-Manuel Miranda joins forces with Opetaia Foa’i and Mark Mancina to create the songs for the soundtrack, with Mancina taking the reins scoring the film. With so many catchy tunes like “Where You Are”, “You’re Welcome” and (my favourite) “We Know The Way”, this original soundtrack will have you humming for days, if not weeks, after you have seen the movie.
As with many Disney Animation films, there is a wonderful animated short film that precedes the feature called Inner Workings about Paul who works for the firm Boring Boring and Glum. I am sure most of the adults who have seen this will relate to him. Finally, make sure you stay till all the credits have rolled for a post-credit scene that you do not want to miss!
Moana officially opens in Australia on Boxing Day, 26th December. Look for Advance Screenings across the country.