Disney has a welcome new addition to its kitty of heroic characters. On a content and self-sufficient Polynesian island, while other kids cower at grandma’s stories of what happens over the waters and beyond, only little Moana’s saucer eyes glint with curiosity. Her father, the chief, forbids anybody from venturing beyond the island but the ocean makes its overtures and Moana’s mesmerised. There’s a lovely scene of a rapt and riveted Moana watching sealife through dancing waves that act like glass panes in an aquarium.
Her grandma is another little delight as she happily goes against her son’s rules and Moana hears how the islanders were once adventurous voyagers. The call of the sea gets stronger when the coconuts trees are diseased and fishing nets come back empty.
With a few more stories from grandma to guide her, Moana sets off to save her island. But her mission can be accomplished only when she gets huge demi-God Maui on her side. And that’s easier said than done for Maui comes with his own baggage. But the plucky little Moana wins him over and he finally teaches her to sail with the waves dancing around them. As she states, “The ocean chose me for a reason.”
There follows a series of adventures involving scary creatures like a monster crab that seem to come off a template for animation films. But what makes Moana’s adventure a family treat is the jaunty music, the spray of colours and the splash of the ocean, all conducted like an orchestra. And there are new touches like body tattoos that walk and talk substituting for Maui’s conscience waking him up now and then.
Moana is sketched with substance as she’s the chief’s daughter who takes decisions and comes up trumps on this self-discovery journey. Luckily, she’s not cloying, honey-sweet and Auli’I Cravalho gives her a rare fragile-feisty quality. Not seeing but only hearing The Rock, Dwayne Johnson, sing and play mighty Maui, makes it funnily enough, a lot more watchable.
If I have an issue with Disney’s Moana, it is that directors John Musker and Ron Clements could have trimmed the length a bit.
On the other hand, the never-give-up message, the music and the general feel-happy tone of the film keep it going. Nature, especially the ocean that keeps sweeping Moana to safety, is almost a character by itself.
For a well-animated and well-rounded family fare, Moana gets a 3 star rating.