The Hippo


Jun 1, 2020









Moana (PG)
Film Reviews by Amy Diaz

By Amy Diaz

A chief in training decides to strike out on the ocean to save her people in Moana, a standout addition to the animated Disney princess family.
In the last few years, I have become pretty pro-princess, at least in their modern incarnation. Your modern Disney princesses, including those on TV and even the live-action remakes, have personalities, interests beyond romance and a welcome variety of hair and skin colors. Even the modern-era princesses who do have a romance plot (Rapunzel in Tangled or Tiana in The Princess and the Frog, for example) also have skills and life ambitions. Moana is a perfect fit with this approach to female leads who can have both a fancy dress (available for purchase, of course) and adventures.
Moana (voice of Auli’i Cravalho) is the daughter of her island’s chief, Chief Tui (Temuera Morrison, singing voice is Christopher Jackson). Her duty (as is explained in one of many delightful songs) is to learn how to guide and protect her people on the island, never leaving the island except to fish inside the reef that surrounds the island. But Moana desperately wants to set sail and discover what’s beyond the reef — a desire that her grandmother, Tala (Rachel House), encourages even as Moana’s father and mother try to keep her grounded. 
When fishing nets around the island turn up empty and the coconut crop starts to fail, Moana again looks to the horizon. Her grandmother tells her that the problems all stem from an ancient wrong, when the demigod Maui (Dwayne Johnson) stole the glowy green heart of Te Fiti (a kind of earth mother goddess) and lost it in a fight with a giant lava demon. Tala just happens to have what she believes is the heart; if Moana can find Maui and get him to return the heart, abundance will return to the ocean and the land. 
Shiny green rock or no, Moana’s not going anywhere, says the chief. But, this being a Disney movie about a brave young woman, Moana soon finds herself at sea with only her rooster, Heihei. Because the water has been buddies with Moana from way back, the ocean actually helps her wash ashore on the island where Maui has long been stuck. He is not interested in any kind of quest, and certainly not one that has him battling the lava demon again. Maui tries to get rid of Moana and steal her boat, but eventually he reluctantly agrees (forced in part by the tattoos on his biceps that act as his conscience) to help her. 
Also on this journey: adorable little coconut-shell-wearing pirates try to steal the green heart, as does a shiny-objects-covered crab (Jemaine Clement). Maui and Moana have a friendship that includes mutual encouragement as well as sailing lessons. And, of course, the central battle of all involved is really to figure out who they are and find the strength to be their best selves. What’s truly magical about Moana is that that last part is presented with such charm and skill that I can’t even be cynical about it.
I saw a headline on Slate comparing this movie to Aladdin, and notes of the Aladdin-Genie friendship are definitely present in the Moana-Maui friendship. Also, you get your standard Broadway/Disney “I wish” song as well as the modern Broadway feel brought by Lin-Manuel Miranda, who wrote many of this movie’s songs. The opening scenes of a toddler Moana “meeting” the ocean reminded me of Brave (the Pixar princess movie), as does a lot of Moana’s take-matters-into-her-own-hands attitude. Moana also shares some personality traits with Elena, the Latina princess of the Disney cartoon TV show Elena of Avalor, where another young leader-in-training balances duty and adventure.
Yet despite being, in many ways, a very familiar kind of character in a very familiar kind of story, Moana and Moana feel fresh and new and exciting. She is a fun character even as she also represents exactly what many moms want their daughters (and sons) to absorb about confidence, bravery and believing in oneself. The animation is lovely, bright tropical greens and jewel-like blues with ocean nights rendered as awe-inspiringly as in The Life of Pi. The songs are a true delight — I’ll bet on “You’re Welcome,” Maui’s introductory song, for at least an Oscar nomination.
Generally, I consider this solid elementary-school-age- (and up, decidedly “and up”) friendly fare.  (Though I do know one 4-year-old who declared herself done with the movie after a bit of what I’d consider mild peril early on. I will say that the movie has fantasy monster scariness, death of beloved family member scariness and real-world danger scariness — not gobs of each but enough that a young movie-goer sensitive about any one of those things might want to wait a year or so before viewing.)
Moana is that rare kids’ movie that is genuinely delightful and as satisfying and as well-made as any movie for grown-ups. A
Rated PG for peril, some scary images and brief thematic elements. Directed by Ron Clements, Don Hall, John Musker and Chris Williams with a screenplay by Jared Bush (story by Ron Clements & John Musker and Chris Williams & Don Hall and Pamela Ribon and Aaron Kandell & Jordan Kandell), Moana is an hour and 43 minutes long and distributed by Walt Disney. 

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