Mythical Voyagers (Moana, 2016)
Disney’s Moana is the second time they have visited Polynesian. The first was the fun Lilo and Stitch. This time around, Moana goes for mythical adventure.
Moana is a young woman, destined to be chief of her island, like her father before her. But part of her longs to go beyond the reef at the entrance to the island’s cove. She tries to fulfill her duties, and is doing well, until she suggests going beyond the reef, as the fishermen are catching no fish. The coconuts are spoiling.
The reason is, because long ago, the Demi-God Maui stole the heart of Te Fiti…and this resulted in a malevolent force spreading across the sea. Moana’s people have not left the island for fears of what lies beyond the reef, but Moana finds no choice when the sea gives her the Heart of Te Fiti. She seeks out Maui to make him right his wrong. The two are forced to endure each other on the mission.
Mismatched heroes is nothing new, and yet, the personalities of Moana and Maui are quite charming. This is in spite of the fact that Maui is a tremendously egotistical guy who sees everything he has done as heroic. Moana is both responsible and adventurous, which is a bit more unique. Often, it seems brash and impulsive heroes have to learn the lesson of responsibility. Not Moana.
The fact is, rather than take the easy route of making impediments for Moana some brand of villain? They opted for making them likeable and relatable. The one time we see Moana’s father express anger, it is not cruel or abusive. It is out of personal fear that Moana may be to much like him. Her parents are loving. Her grandmother is gentle, wise and goofy.
The writers and Dwayne Johnson are able to imbue Maui with charm even when he is being stubborn and selfish. You want to see him turn it around.
The animation in Moana is vibrant and beautiful. It is fluid, like the ocean it crosses. The concept of Maui’s tattoos being a living part of him that act as a conscience is a terrific idea. It is also worth noting that the tattoos are hand drawn and animated. They are seamless with the digital animation.
The songs, by Hamilton’s Lin-Manuel Miranda, Opetaia Foa’i and Mark Mancina are both powerful and engaging fun. The more Polynesian influenced songs play, they swell and explode with a certain power. The more pop songs (there is one Bowie-esque songs that is truly enjoyable) make you want to move.
The story is inspiring, built on thoughtful dialog, along with a whole lot of humor. I have tried to find something not to like. But you know what? I cannot. Moana was pure joy to watch.