Somewhat hidden underneath the release of the new Star Wars movie, a far superior film has hit the screens: Moana is awesome.

Source: Disney

Okay, okay fanboys and fangirls, settle down. I’m actually a massive Star Wars fan myself. I enjoyed Rogue One the first time. I would say it’s probably the weakest of the Star Wars prequels (and I prefer the prequels) but has its moments. On New Years Eve, I saw Rogue One for the second time at the drive-ins with a few friends, but first in the line up for the evening was Disney’s latest 3D animation, Moana.

A summary of my review is this: wow.

Moana could be one of the best Disney movies I’ve ever seen.

I know, I know. Big call. But after seeing it, I just thought, wow. Moana is awesome. The story, the soundtrack, the characters, everything was near perfect. And it had some excellent themes throughout that are core to the human experience. So I thought Moana deserves my first post for 2017 – here’s a review of Moana.

A simple premise

I think what was great about Moana is that its plot is very simple yet deeply profound. Moana is the daughter of the village chief and is next in line to become the ruler of the island Matunui, created by the goddess Te Fiti (which the whole movie I thought they had been saying “Tahiti”). The island is slowly decaying and running out of resources, but no one leaves the island or even fishes beyond the reef. An evil lava monster named Te Ka prevents anyone leaving, and had also been hunting the demigod Maui after he had stolen a green stone called The Heart of Te Fiti. Maui, after suffering a defeat at the hands of Te Ka, is nowhere to be found. Not content to stay on the island as the people had always done, Moana purposes in her heart to set off and find Maui to save Te Fiti from being destroyed. Moana’s father, the village chief, is set against this, but his mother, Moana’s grandma, seems to know something that no one else does.

It’s not overly complex, there aren’t a lot of characters, and the execution is excellent. The whole story is very grounded. Everyone’s motivations and actions make complete sense, and unlike other Disney films, you don’t really go “ah that’s a clear good guy” or “how could her father say that?” – everyone is portrayed in a more matter of fact “this is exactly what happened” sort of manner.

The movie is also quite aware of Disney cliches. Maui even tells Moana that she’s definitely a princess because she’s the daughter of someone significant and has her own animal sidekick.

A great cast

Let’s talk about that cast. The most iconic voice in the movie is probably that of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson as the demigod Maui, and it’s pretty much as if The Rock himself had been turned into a Disney character. They even use his token eyebrow moves. He’s actually great in this role, bringing cheek, comedy and also dramatic depth to the demigod. The Rock even gets his own musical number, but more on those musical numbers later.

The lead character, Moana, is played by newcomer Auli’i Cravalho, and this girl has a bright future ahead of her after this movie for sure. Her Moana is strong but sweet, and a great role model for any kids who’ll for sure make this a new favourite. The rest of the cast is also great with two notable surprises. Jermaine Clements plays one of the film’s villains as a giant crab obsessed with shiny objects, and Temuera Morrison of Star Wars fame plays Moana’s father. Suitably iconic voices for the scale of their characters. It’s also a good year for Alan Tudyk (who also plays K2-S0 in Rogue One), who plays the animal sidekick, Hei Hei the Chicken.

What a soundtrack

I know La La Land is getting rave reviews for its qualities as a musical (I’m yet to see it). However, Moana should receive similar praise. The musical quality is excellent. The whole soundtrack suitably has a Polynesian feel to it, with instruments and tunes that will get you planning your next holiday out to the Pacific.

Where You Are is a strong opener and a good time, with its lyrics setting up the premise of the movie – the island gives us what we need, be happy where you are. It’s a nice thought that is also juxtaposed against Moana’s desire to leave so that she can return where she is. How Far I’ll Go is the main musical theme and it’s fascinating how interwoven this track is throughout the movie, featuring a reprise of the song with Moana’s renewed sense of saving her island, as well as later in the movie where she discovers more firmly who she is and what she’s supposed to do. Think Mulan meets Pocahontas in terms of the reflection. I really loved the song I Am Moana which features almost every song in the movie blended into one definitive number.

And the second-to-last song in the movie… that one will hit you where you live.

Just really well done here. And as I mentioned, The Rock is a winner with You’re Welcome, a cheeky song about how good Maui is to the point where all he feels he can say is “You’re Welcome” for being himself.

I bought the soundtrack as soon as I got home.

When you’re disenfranchised

Moana is a movie about being disenfranchised. Every character has some sort of setback in their life. Moana is set back because her father tells her there is only destruction beyond the reef, and even more set back when she tests this and he turns out to be right. Moana’s father is set back because he lost his best friend trying to save his island. Maui is set back because he had been defeated and was unable to look after his people. On and on, the movie explores the impacts that being “defeated” has on your life.

Identity is the core theme here. Even the demigod Maui finds himself asking who he is if he doesn’t have his magical powers all the time. You’re going to leave this movie surprisingly reflective. I even spoke with a guy at work today about the movie and his daughters were asking him why he was crying during some key moments.

Restoring the heart

Ultimately, the movie is about the loss of the heart. When people lose their heart, they turn into destroyers, as reflected in several characters in the movie. It’s only when each of the characters is able to either return to their heart, remember their heart, or have their heart restored by someone else, that they are able to move forward and live the life they were supposed to live. The characters’ external sense of loss or frustration was just a reflection of their internal loss. Rogue One actually has a good line of dialogue to this end – “There are many types of prison, and I sense yours is one you carry with you wherever you go”.

Moana is absolutely on the money on a very raw and real reality for all of us – a neglected, lost, frustrated, or stolen heart causes us to forget who we are. Never lose sight of your heart. The movie reminds us that transformation is only possible from the inside out, when the heart can be restored.

And something else so powerful that the movie highlights is our ability to restore the hearts of others. Whether you were the one to originally tarnish or “steal” a heart, or if it was someone else, we can be the agents to enact a restoration in someone’s life.

In one of the best songs in the movie, Moana sums this up very well –

“I have crossed the horizon to find you
I know your name
They have stolen the heart from inside you
But this does not define you
This is not who you are
You know who you are”

Overall, Moana is a movie you need to see. Your kids will love it. The kid in you will love it. The adult in you will love it. The themes are universal, the characters are great, the cast is stellar, and you’ll buy the soundtrack as soon as you here it.

Go see it!

Have you seen Moana? What did you think? Did you think it was as great as I did?

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