The scene opens with the wide eyes of a small girl as she tumbles through the sand and is playfully teased by a waving tide. It is instantly noticeable, in the warm toned lyrical opening musical number, that Disney has invited us back to its magical world. Like a tide curling back into the sea, we are once again swept up in the world of adventure, friendship and magic. The eyes of the children in the audience grow as wide as baby Moana’s, devouring this spectacle of color and sound. The eyes of the adults with them reflect a familiar nostalgia, as new worlds are made familiar through the swish of that magic wand. However, Disney’s “Moana” also offers something new: a development in the new age of Disney princesses brought to us in movies like “Princess and the Frog, “Brave” and “Frozen.” Moana, a Polynesian princess, but also soon-to-be leader of her people, offers a new image to what a hero is meant to be. Through this young protagonist’s will and powerful spirit, the movie develops a message of finding power within and believing in yourself unquestionably.
The movie follows Moana as she embarks on a journey to save the dying island she calls home. Throughout her childhood, she is sheltered by her parents and community from “exploring beyond the reef.” However, she soon finds out that the sea chose her to return a treasured stone that had been stolen from the motherland by the demigod Maui thousands of years ago to save her island. Moana has to journey past the reef and into the dangers of the deep sea to return the stone. Along the way, she encounters and defeats many challenges, proving to herself she is worthy of her destiny, as her grandmother told her countless times. She discovers she can do anything she sets out to do no matter what other people say about her. “Moana” emphasizes the importance of friendships, nature and community. The film also proudly embraces Polynesian culture and traditions.
Lin-Manuel Miranda, creator of the Broadway musical “Hamilton,” elevates the movie with an incredible soundtrack, full of his classic literary rhythm and hip hop flair. Miranda’s influence is strongly reflected in the character-performed musical numbers, including standouts “How Far I’ll Go” and “You’re Welcome.” Miranda, along with Opetaia Foa’i, the lead singer of the South Pacific fusion band Te Vaka, and Disney composer-arranger Mark Mancina gives Moana a unique sound unlike that of earlier movies. The soundtrack drives the plot and enhances the films ambient surroundings.
Through Moana’s character, the message of female empowerment and courage comes through as well as the importance of following one’s heart. Moana follows her heart and embraces her adventurous nature to save her family. She is courageous and unwilling to compromise what she believes for others. Her goal is to save her island and her people, not to marry a prince. At the end of the movie Moana does not end up with a man and instead saves the island and returns to her family. This is refreshing because it sends a message that Moana did not need a man to validate her victory and that there is more to life than meeting and falling in love with a prince. This powerful female lead is voiced by a 16-year-old Mililani, Hawaii native, Auli’i Cravalho. Cravalho was discovered by Disney while singing at a charity event in Oahu, Hawaii. Additionally, Moana does not look like princesses from the past. Moana is different in that she has a more realistic body type. She is also physically active throughout the movie, showing off her strength and ability to face dangers. Through Moana’s physical ability, courage, body type and unwillingness to settle for anything less than what she believes in, the movie goes against societal norms of what a woman should be.
Many of the characters in “Moana” are voiced by famous actors such as former WWE fighter Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Jemaine Clement and Nicole Scherzinger, most of whom have roots in the Pacific Islands. According to Vanity Fair, the cast, with help of the screenwriter was able to subtly add their experience of Pacific culture into their characters. The voice of Moana herself, Carvalho, shines throughout the film with natural talent in acting and music. The way that she played Moana made her a relatable character for the audience. Johnson is also a star in the movie. Although Johnson is known for usually acting as tough men in movies, he plays a character who has a soft interior and even breaks into a catchy song in the film.
The graphics and animation in this film are hypnotizing. Immediately from the first second of the film, to the very last, the scenes were filled with bright, vibrant scenes of nature and culture. The characters are incredibly realistic and relatable and the way they were portrayed led to laughter and tears from the audience. Because of the film is set in the Polynesian islands, “Moana” also required many technological upgrades regarding the animation of water and even hair in order to make it more expressive. A lot of research went into developing an authentic cultural atmosphere in the film. According to Vanity Fair, creators John Musker and Ron Clements went on various trips to the Polynesian islands before starting on Moana. For all authentic details, they consulted the Ocean Trust, a group of specialists from the islands, integral in shaping the culturally accurate fine details, such as Maui’s hair and accurate lyrics. These advances were extremely effective as the graphics looked incredibly realistic and natural throughout the entire film.
Overall, Moana was a refreshing wave in the Disney princess collection, with endearing characters, an incredible music soundtrack and an empowered female led. It’s a movie you won’t want to miss.