Film Review – Moana

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Given Polynesia’s proximity to the island of Australia, it’s a wonder we haven’t seen more Polynesian stories in this country. While we do get a handful of Kiwi films (many of which are representative of Polynesian culture), this feels like the first big budget film to land on these shores that is all about Polynesian mythology.

Welcome then – Moana – title character to the 56th and latest animated film from Walt Disney Studios, directed by Ron Clements and John Musker (The Little Mermaid), and co-directed by Don Hall and Chris Williams (Big Hero 6).

Starring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnston as Maui, a legendary shapeshifting demigod and newcomer Auli’i Cravalho as Moana – a spirited teenager who sails out on a daring mission to fulfil her ancestors’ unfinished quest, Moana is a Disney film up there with their best, and Miss 9 – Ruby, walked out of the theatre after sitting through the credits right to the end, proclaiming that she wished she could watch Moana again straight away.

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Hardly surprising that Ruby was so smitten, given what a no nonsense, take no prisoners, speak her mind, follow her path kind of gal Moana turns out to be.

RACHEL HOUSE (“Whale Rider,” “Hunt for the Wilderpeople”) voices GRAMMA TALA, Moana’s confidante and best friend, who shares her granddaughter’s special connection to the ocean. ©2016 Disney. All Rights Reserved.
RACHEL HOUSE (“Whale Rider,” “Hunt for the Wilderpeople”) voices GRAMMA TALA, Moana’s confidante and best friend, who shares her granddaughter’s special connection to the ocean. ©2016 Disney. All Rights Reserved.

Advised by her Gramma Tala Waialiki (the wonderful Rachel House from Hunt for the Wilderpeople) that the ocean has chosen Moana to restore natural balance following the theft of a small pounamu stone that is the heart of Te Fiti (a goddess with the power to create life) by the demigod Maui, the young princess must take to the seas in her mission to set things right.

At stake, the future of her island which has become affected by a curse, blighting crops and making the reliable and plentiful supply of  fish non-existent, and most likely in time the entire ocean dependant community extinct.

One problem – Moana’s Dad refuses to allow his Chief-in-waiting daughter to venture beyond the reef that encircles the tiny island. A pesky detail like that can’t stop “Chosen One” Moana from finding a way to leave her home and set off on a quest to find Maui, reunite him with his magical fish hook (a useful tool that allows him to shape-shift) and deliver him to Ne Fiti (who, by the way, is a furious volcanic lava monster) to repair his wrongdoing.

MOANA’S MISSION — Maui (voice of Dwayne Johnson) may be a demigod—half god, half mortal, all awesome—but he’s no match for Moana (voice of Auli‘i Cravalho), who’s determined to sail out on a daring mission to save her people. Moana's first challenge is convincing Maui to join her. Directed by Ron Clements and John Musker, produced by Osnat Shurer, and featuring music by Lin-Manuel Miranda, Mark Mancina and Opetaia Foa‘i, “Moana” sails into U.S. theaters on Nov. 23, 2016. ©2016 Disney. All Rights Reserved.
MOANA’S MISSION — Maui (voice of Dwayne Johnson) may be a demigod—half god, half mortal, all awesome—but he’s no match for Moana (voice of Auli‘i Cravalho), who’s determined to sail out on a daring mission to save her people. Moana’s first challenge is convincing Maui to join her. Directed by Ron Clements and John Musker, produced by Osnat Shurer, and featuring music by Lin-Manuel Miranda, Mark Mancina and Opetaia Foa‘i, “Moana” sails into U.S. theaters on Nov. 23, 2016. ©2016 Disney. All Rights Reserved.

Along the way Moana encounters a host of creatures including coconut pirates – Kakamora –  that seem to be Ewoks who watched Max Mad Fury Road while playing Angry Birds and decided to take to the high seas as a band of pint sized marauders…

The KAKAMORA, an intense team of crazy, coconut-armored pirates who will stop at nothing to get what they want. ©2016 Disney. All Rights Reserved.
The KAKAMORA, an intense team of crazy, coconut-armored pirates who will stop at nothing to get what they want. ©2016 Disney. All Rights Reserved.

Moana also encounters (Jemaine Clement as) Tamatoa, a giant treasure-hoarding coconut crab from Lalotai, the Realm of Monsters who delivers one of the more enjoyable Bowie inspired songs from the soundtrack.

JEMAINE CLEMENT (“The BFG,” “Despicable Me,” “Rio,” “Rio 2,” “What We Do in the Shadows,” Flight of the Conchords) provides the voice of TAMATOA, a self-absorbed, 50-foot crab who lives in Lalotai, the realm of monsters. ©2016 Disney. All Rights Reserved.
JEMAINE CLEMENT (“The BFG,” “Despicable Me,” “Rio,” “Rio 2,” “What We Do in the Shadows,” Flight of the Conchords) provides the voice of TAMATOA, a self-absorbed, 50-foot crab who lives in Lalotai, the realm of monsters. ©2016 Disney. All Rights Reserved.

These songs are inoffensive to family ears for the most part and catchy enough for a young audience, and Moana, ironically an updated contemporary princess movie, based on mythology that is thousands of years old, is a first class addition to the Disney library.

I’m looking forward to Ruby seeing Sing so she can tell me which one is her favourite.

Moana opens in Australia on Boxing Day December 26th.

4 Stars – Majestic.

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