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Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2016 07:58 pm

Inspiring, Gorgeous, Funny "Moana" One of Disney’s Best

When you have a formula that works, you don’t tinker with it.  Kentucky Fried Chicken knows this, Mercedes-Benz knows this and Disney knows this. It would be hard to calculate just how many billions the corporation has earned on its princess movies and the ancillary products it sells because of them. The youngsters these films are aimed at show no signs of stopping where watching and collecting items related to them are concerned and to Disney’s credit, what they produce has been of consistently high quality over the years.  It ain’t broke, so why should they worry about fixing it?

As long as the studio is able to produce films like Moana, its best animated effort since Frozen and one that’s just as good as some of Disney’s acknowledged classics, then they just need to keep doing what their doing.  Inspiring, funny and gorgeous, directors Ron Clements and Don Hall hit the ground running in bringing Jared Harris’ script to life, a story in which not only are the main character and her ally trying to come to terms with who they are, but an entire society as well.

Moana (Auli'i Cravalho) gets ready for a big adventure in Moana.
Courtesy Disney Pictures.

From the start, Moana (voice by Auli’I Cravalho) is seen as a child of destiny, one eager to find out what lies beyond her village and who does not shrink from danger.  Her father, Chief Tui (Temuera Morris) wishes that she would be content with the fact that the island where they live provides her and her people all that they need. However, Moana’s wanderlust and curiosity are too much to contain, and after making a startling discovery about her people, she comes to understand her purpose.  She is charged with finding the demigod Maui (Dwayne Johnson) who’s been in exile for centuries after having robbed the heart of the goddess Te’ Fiti. This act has caused a blight to slowly creep across the ocean, infecting one island at a time, a plague that’s finally reached Moana’s home, causing crops to wither and the fishing grounds to empty.  She must find and convince Maui to return the heart to Te’Fiti to set things right.

The bulk of the film consists of this adventure giving the corps of animators a variety of locales to show what they’re capable of.  The sights are breath-taking as the sea provides a glistening background of greens and blues against which the fluid motions of the many boats glide.  A massive flotilla, having taken a wrong turn from Mad Max: Fury Road, that emerges from a cloud bank is an impressive frightening sight, as is a vision at the end of a sleeping god wrapped around an island, while Maui’s tattoos are a show of their own, acting as the demigod’s conscience, coming to life throughout to urge him to do the right thing.  While “Kubo and the Two Strings” may be the most innovative animated film of the year, “Moana” is surely the most beautiful with one incredible sight tripping on the heels of another.

Moana (Auli’I Cravalho) takes a stand against the demigod Maui (Dwayne Johnson) in Moana.
Courtesy Disney Pictures.

The voice work at play here is top-notch with newcomer Cravalho providing a solid foundation with her properly emotive voice and strong singing, while Johnson brings a sense of confident derring-do to Maui as well as genuine doubt during a key moment. He also does a fine job singing with “You’re Welcome,” a self-serving tune delivered with just the right amount of false modesty.

To be sure, Moana’s message of empowerment is nothing new but here it has a much wider scope.  It isn’t just the young lady at its center who is seeking purpose and identity but her people, the demigod at her side and even the villain they must combat.  In many ways, this is a reflection of our confused times, as so many of us question the direction our world and our country is headed in.  “Moana” reminds us that in seeking and finding our reason for living, we might be able to guide others towards theirs. 

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