'Moana' Review: It May Not Be the Disney Movie We Deserve, But It's the One We Need
By John Boone
Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
It is undeniable that the country is feeling a lot of feelings right now. No matter which side of the aisle you're embedded on, no matter how you feel about the outcome of the election even weeks later -- or maybe it's felt like no time at all -- there is a palpable tension and an uncertainty in day-to-day life. Amid that darkness, Disney releases Moana.
The movie centers on Moana, the titular princess and future chief of her tribe voiced by 14-year-old newcomer Auli'i Cravalho, who sets sail on the ocean, all sparkly and jewel-toned, with a song in her heart and the hesitant help of the braggadocious demi-god, Maui (Dwayne Johnson), to reverse an ancient curse and save her people.
You could also say it's about a village where the people have conflicting ideas on how to fix the economy and about im- and emigration and making their island great again and, oh my god, someone please stop me before I try to figure out which character is Trump.
The thing is, I actually didn't think any of that during the movie. That's just what happens when you sit down to write a review with your Twitter feed open.
I thought about how cute Moana's pet pig is, and how when I see a plush toy of him in the store, I'll want to buy it but I won't because that's the rationalization I have to make as a semi-budget responsible adult. I thought about how funny her dumb chicken Hei Hei is, undoubtedly the dumbest dumb character Disney has ever created. ("You really thought that chicken was funny," my friend pointed out after our screening.) I thought about how the princess didn't fall for some dopey dude in the end, and that was nice. (Despite all the ~soul sisters~ warm fuzzies of Frozen, Anna still ended up with Kristoff.) I thought about how Dwayne Johnson is somehow just as delightfully Dwayne Johnson-y in voice alone, especially during his singing debut on "You're Welcome."
And oh, the music! Moana comes from the Disney legends behind classics such as The Little Mermaid and Aladdin, but the music comes by way of another phenomenon: the Broadway uber-hit, Hamilton. Lin-Manuel Miranda, alongside Opetaia Foa'i and Mark Mancina, lends his words to some of the soundtrack's standout songs, and I only wish he'd lent his voice to one of the characters too. (Perhaps that would have risked overshadowing The Rock's rap skills though.) Cravalho's voice is full and soulful, and popstar-in-the-making Alessia Cara's end credits song of "How Far I'll Go" is a gem. The Polynesian-tinged tunes may not seem as instantly catchy as "Let It Go," good riddance, but will worm their way in on repeat listens. (There will be repeat listens.)
It all ramps up to an emotional climax that certainly doesn't reinvent the wheel, but which is more emotionally affecting than any in recent memory. Or perhaps it's just exactly what we needed right now.