The latest film from Walt Disney Animation Studios, “Moana” serves as a solid addition to the already strong animated movie lineup even though a few problems keep it from hitting Disney’s high mark.
The film follows the young and adventurous Moana (Auli’i Cravalho) as she journeys to find the demigod Maui and prevent her island home from being destroyed by darkness.
The biggest issue with “Moana” is its relatively average plot. The film starts slowly, introducing large amounts of backstory and setting up Moana’s journey before settling into a better-paced second act. Unfortunately, just as the film starts to find its footing, an awkward transition into the finale seems random in its placement and handling. While “Moana” does have Disney’s signature heartwarming moments and important moral lessons, these more serious scenes are offset by hit-or-miss humor. All this makes it feel like a few screws still needed to be tightened.
The songs scattered through the film are fun and emotional but come across as more Broadway-esque than previous Disney fare. This may leave some audiences feeling like the songs aren’t as memorable or easy to sing along to on repeated watchings, even though the change of pace is welcome and refreshing. There are also only a handful of songs in total, with two in particular repeated multiple times. This creates a small issue as the song quality is so good it leaves a feeling of wanting more instead of hearing another reprise.
One of “Moana’s” biggest strengths comes from the cast itself. Newcomer Auli’i Cravalho does a great job as the titular protagonist, bringing a strong sense of freedom and feistiness to her role. Cravalho is complimented well by Dwayne Johnson’s Maui, with Johnson also performing strongly in his first animated role. The rest of the cast does well, especially Jemaine Clement who has a memorable performance as the monster Tamatoa.
The characters themselves are interesting and layered, though they do have a few small issues. Moana is a strong and driven character, but it seems like she needs to be pushed into action a few too many times to feel like she’s completely grown into her own character. That said, she continues Disney’s tradition of providing likable and relatable protagonists. Maui also has a good arc that ties nicely into Moana’s while building a natural friendship between the two.
The film’s other biggest strength lies in its visuals. Everything is beautifully animated, with the landscapes providing a vibrant and realistic backdrop to the action and fun of the film. The mixture of caves, islands, boats and more lend a nice variety to what could have been a more static film and there is a constant movement from one location to the next. The characters and creatures also look believable, with well-done expressions, movements and a large amount of unique detail put into each from Maui’s tattoos to Moana’s hair flowing in the breeze.
Another strong addition to the Disney animated line-up, Moana is a beautifully animated film filled with fun songs and led by a great performance from Auli’i Cravalho that is hampered by a few problems.