Moana (2016): Film Review

Directed by: Ron Clements and John Musker
Starring: Auli’i Cravalho, Dwayne Johnson
Viewed: Showcase Cinema De Lux, Leicester, 6/12/16

Disney are certainly on a roll this year, with the media giant breaking the box office record for most sales in a year by a studio, and this was two months before the year has even ended. When you see that Disney are in control of Walt Disney Pictures, Walt Disney Animation, Pixar, Marvel Studios and most recently, Lucasfilm, it is not unsurprising that they are raking it in, and we still have Rogue One: A Star Wars Story to go this year, which will make breaking Disney’s record near impossible.

Amongst all that, we get an original Disney film, Moana, complete with songs and all. Moana would have been easy to slip through the cracks, with all of the other box office giants around it, but I’m glad I went along to see this typically animated, cheery entry in the world of Disney.

After Maui (Dwayne Johnson) releases a curse upon Ancient Polynesia, Moana (Auli’i Cravalho) is called upon by the ocean to find the demigod and set things right again. The title of the film and the trailers we got to see prior to its release gave two different impressions, with one suggesting that Moana was the main character, and the other that perhaps Maui was. It was clear that the former was accurate, and I was glad to see so, as Auli’i was stunning as Moana. Despite being only 14 years old when doing the voice acting for the film, as well as this being her first acting role, her charisma and singing voice made her sound like an actress of much greater experience, and I hope we will get to see more of her in the future. Dwayne Johnson was perfect for the role of Maui, an arrogant beefed up demigod, who upon meeting Moana, has very little desire to help and only wishes to fulfil his own selfish desires. I was actually quite surprised to hear him singing his own solo, and even more surprised at how good it actually was.

Overall, the films music is really good, with authentic Polynesian instrumentation being utilised masterfully, and the singing was mostly great, with Moana being the highlight. I say the singing was mostly great, as there was one particular scene involving a giant crab that was bad in just about every way imaginable, and it really took you out of the film.
Like every Disney film, Moana contains some pretty important messages, and in a way that will be both digestible and appropriate for young children, though will always hold greater meaning for us as adults. Death is something that crops up a lot during the film, and whilst it won’t do any damage, it did feel like they talked about dying an awful lot by the time the credits rolled. To provide some (most) of the films comic relief, we get Heihei, a chicken that is so stupid, that even saying he had one brain cell would be a compliment. For me, Heihei definitely provided the funniest moments in the film, but by the end of the film, it felt like he had been overused. There is only so many times you can laugh when watching a chicken fall into some water. I guess that was the main issue I had with Moana as a whole. By the end of the film I felt like it was dragging a little bit, which isn’t great for a film that is less than two hours long and aimed at children. I can’t pin point what it really was, but Moana felt like it was missing that special something, a bigger pay off in the latter stages of the film perhaps, but it just felt like things were getting a little repetitive.

In conclusion, Moana was definitely worth going to see, it was a typically fun, funny, sing along Disney film, though everything about it seemed like we’d seen it been done before but a bit better. The kids will certainly enjoy it, and will undoubtedly have tonnes of laughter with Heihei, the stupid chicken. The best thing to come out of this film by far is Auli’i Cravalho, and I hope to see her doing something worthy of her singing voice and acting ability in the future.

If you like Disney films, you’ll like Moana, but don’t expect it to become one of the classics in years to come – 7/10

Fun fact: The filmmakers auditioned hundreds of women for the role of Moana in the Pacific Islands, Auli’i Cravalho was the very last girl that was auditioned.

Stuart Keating