“Moana” is the latest coming-of-age adventure from Disney. It follows in the tradition of animated musicals with original songs by Lin-Manuel Miranda that mix pop music with a healthy dose of Polynesian culture. Still, “Moana” will be remembered mainly for being one of the most visually beautiful Disney movies ever produced. “Frozen” innovated with an artistic use of ice and “Moana” continues the innovation with water. The artists really captured the natural movement of water as well as its interaction with humans (and demigods). For me, this is where the comparisons to “Frozen” end. I have been told by many that they prefer it to “Frozen” and I believe that they are speaking from movie-burn-out. It is no secret that “Frozen” has been overplayed and overdone, but its songs, story, balance between fantasy and realism, integration of music into the story, and voice acting are superior to “Moana.” I'm so thankful to be a part of the second Disney Renaissance even though this is the “Hercules” of the group: Highly entertaining, full of clever comedy, but definitely not “The Lion King.” My favorite part of the film are the tender moments between Moana and her grandmother. They are everything that we love in a Disney movie and I shed a few tears multiple times. Something that we don’t expect in a Disney movie is that there isn’t really a villain. This film’s conflict is truly “man vs. nature” as well as “girl vs. growing up.” I appreciate that the entire cast is made up of actors from the South Pacific. Auli’I Cravalho gives an inspired performance in the singing and speaking roles of Moana, Temuera Morrison (the voice of Boba Fett!!!) delivers the role of Moana’s father very well, and I was pleased with Dwayne Johnson’s singing and speaking voice for this role. They even got retired Pittsburgh Steeler Troy Polamalu in on the fun! There are some excellent visual moments in the film like the genius decision to put 3D animated characters into a 2D animated world for Maui's "Your Welcome" song. All of the sailing sequences were put together really well and the animation of the hair was the best since “Brave.” The place where the film lost me was the whole Tamatoa (giant crab) piece of the story. It didn’t fit in with the realistic journey of Moana and felt like a forceful way for the writers to squeeze another “fun” song into the story. Speaking of the music, I was actually pretty let down by Miranda’s songs. “How Far I’ll Go” is destined to be a favorite forever (hence the Oscar nomination) and I love how that theme was incorporated throughout the film at important moments, from its initial performance to the reprise before her journey and again as part of “I Am Moana.” The rest of the songs either feel forced into the story or completely out of place (“Shiny”), giving credence to Maui’s joke of “If you start singing, I’m going to throw up.” Also, I found the film to be a lot less believable than a lot of Disney’s fantasy films. I jokingly commented at the beginning of the film “I hope that this one doesn’t have a singing volcano” in reference to last year’s “Lava,” but then… I understand that the writers were trying to depict the Polynesians’ connection to the earth and I couldn’t have conceptualized it any better, but it made it much more difficult to buy into the story. On a more pleasant note, the one-line jokes throughout this film are great. There are a ton of laugh out loud moments and when you pair them with the antics of Heihei, the story finds a good balance of serious journey and fun for the whole family. “Moana” didn’t like up to the hype surrounding it but it is a great addition to the Disney catalog and a worthy recipient of a Best Animated Feature Oscar nomination.
[Pictured: The realism of the characters and the setting is beyond any other Disney animation to date]