If you wear a dress and have an animal sidekick, you're a princess.
Moana will hopefully be Disney's biggest animated event since Frozen; a gorgeous, hilarious, exciting, song-filled and action-packed adventure.Taking a hard anti-princess line, Moana imbues Polynesian mythology with animated vitality, delivering a strong contender for one of their best productions of the year, and one of the best animated offerings in recent times. With measured balance between songs and spectacle, comedy and conflict, Moana excels in all departments, remaining a visually opulent wonder wrapped around a strong story and witty script, with a lovingly crafted heart and soul at its centre.The myth-retold has Moana, a young girl with a certain affinity for water, grow up determined to find the missing demi-God, Maui, who may just hold the key to saving the entire world from a disaster which he set in motion in the first place. In order to make the arduous journey, however, she is going to need more than just determination; she will need to learn how to read the stars, sail a catamaran and contend with everything the treacherous oceans throw at her.
After its initial narrated action set-piece prologue, Moana is a far cry from what its trailer might suggest, actually taking its good time to evolve the young girl from toddler to fierce pre-teen, developing the village and the people that she lives amongst; their culture, their passion - never better expressed than literally with a song and dance - before we take to the waves for the voyage to find Maui.
Moana's affinity for water isn't a million miles away form Elsa's freezing abilities, although it's less of a super-power here and more of a relationship, giving her support in times of adversity - which she has plenty of. Once partnered with Dwayne Johnson's Maui, though, the film spends a considerable amount of time playing to his (again, literal) strengths. He makes for a great full-of-himself demi-God, with a self-awareness to the larger-than-life persona that feels like precisely what Johnson would be if he were to actually turn into an animated Disney character. Even his song is spot-on (something which many of 'The Rock's' fans probably weren't really expecting!). He shares great chemistry with teen newcomer Auli'i Cravalho, however, offering up traits central to all unlikely-partners affairs, from Lethal Weapon to Midnight Run to... well, Zootropolis.
Moana excels in all departments, a visually opulent wonder wrapped around a strong, witty script with a warm heart at its core
It's far from Johnson's baby though, with Cravalho's Moana taking centre stage much like Charlize Theron's Furiosa in Mad Max(and the comparison doesn't stop there, with Moana's Waterworld-esque antics - at one point - playing out like a scene from Fury Road, only with the duo being chased by an angry mob of coconut-minions. She's a great role-model, in many ways the antithesis of the more conventional princesses of the Frozen-esque universes, a tough warrior-woman in the making to add to Disney's recent great female future-icons, not least Star Wars's own Rey.
Visually, Moana is astounding, the bright blue sky and deep blue ocean providing a stunning backdrop to the colourful events, but the real surprise comes in the characters, who are so well-realised that it's hard to actually believe that they are not rendered in physically real life. For example, there's one scene where Moana wakes up in close-up on the boat, which has hit an island that is out of focus in the background, and she looks like a real (albeit, admittedly, likely claymation) object rather than a 2D computer visualisation. And with a rousing score - peppered with just enough song tracks to win the hearts of the musical crowd, but nowhere near enough to put off the anti-musical crowd - this production hits all the right notes.
Indeed there's every reason why Moana should win the hearts of audiences, young and old, and take the box office for Disney before passing the baton to Rogue One later in the month. With such rewarding, well-crafted, and all-round superior productions like this on offer, it's nice to know that we can rely on the Marvel/Lucasfilm/Disney/Pixar output of Hollywood's biggest player year-in, year-out. Despite coming in the 11th hour, it's one of the few unmissable movies of the year and comes highly recommended.
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