As much as we enjoy the typical, Disney tale. They all follow the same template. There is a young character trying to prove themselves, usually a young girl. The character is either at odds with their father or daddy isn't in the picture at all. The character is usually underestimated by everyone, but they go head-first into danger to prove themselves, usually going disastrously off course. The character will have one or more animal sidekicks for comic relief. The character will create an uneasy alliance with the film's second big hero, a flawed hero and together, they will each other discover each other's flaws and how they can complete a greater good. Together, the characters save the world and the end, along with lots and lots of songs. I have basically described most Disney classics in one, flowing swoop and I have easily described "Moana."
Make no mistake about it, "Moana" is a beautiful experience. The animation on display is easily some of the very best animation you'll see in a theater this year. The ocean is lush and crisp. The sand looks almost as if you can reach out and grab it. There are some exaggerations when animating the people, but its still detailed work, and it is exceptional. Disney usually pushes the envelope when it comes to improving their animation year by year, and "Moana" is no different, this does feel like a dream we are witnessing at times.
Auli'i Cravalho provides the voice for Moana, a young girl of a Polynesian tribe who is literally given a great task by the ocean. We learn at the beginning of the film that there was nothing but ocean in the early days of the world, then a island god blessed the world with land. The island goddess had the power to create life due to the relic that powered her body. When the demigod Mauri (Dwayne Johnson) steals the relic in order to give it to humanity as a gift, a great lava god confronts him and causes him to loose the relic. Moana is told to find the relic and she inadvisedly enlists the help of Mauri to help find it. I had never heard of Auli'i Cravalho before this, I don't know if she is much of an actress. But I will say she provides good voice detail to her character. I continue to sing the praises of Dwayne Johnson, you can pretty much hear the charisma coming through his character's mouth in the movie. I will even say that Johnson isn't a bad singer, if he indeed was the one singing his characters' songs.
Most of what I describe is icing on the cake. The storyline itself is a typcial Disney affair. Oh sure, most critics will like that Moana isn't a princess, which I will admit is a first. I suppose it makes things a little bit more engaging, but its still way too similar to what we are used to. What makes "Moana" really stand out? I have read other critics say that the movie is more engaging because its more progressive. But honestly, that's been Disney's MO for awhile now. These classics have always been about showcasing the strength women have. I love that "Moana" features a strong female lead, and features important lessons for girls. But is that really all Disney has to say? Are they a one-trick pony? After making such a bold comment in this year's vastly superior "Zootopia," are they really going to just slip back into their old ways? Is Disney's only lesson that with enough persistence, you can complete your goals? Should we only care about "Moana" simply because there isn't a single white face in the whole movie? Don't get me wrong, that's extremely important too, but "Moana" operates so closely to the Disney template that all this progression and uniqueness doesn't really matter.
Disney is beginning to feel like a friend or relative that you ask advice of, but they only give you the same advice, just telling it in a different way. "Moana" maybe packaged differently, but its the same lessons we've been learning from the Disney studios for decades. The animation and the actors involved is beyond stellar. As far as story goes, you'll see it coming a mile away. Why spend money to see this in theaters when you can get the same exact experience with a couple of your Disney DVD's at home?
FINAL GRADE: B-