Tuesday 13 December 2016

Film Review: Moana

Set sail on Disney’s latest sweeping animated adventure with Moana.

Moana follows a young Polynesian girl (Auli’i Cravalho) who embarks on a stirring sea voyage in search of a long lost demigod called Maui (Dwayne Johnson). With her village under threat from encroaching doom, Moana needs to recruit Maui to return a mystical jewel to its original resting place, thus defeating an ancient evil and breaking a dark curse. Rounding out the cast are the voices of Jemaine Clement, Nicole Scherzinger, Temuera Morrison and Alan Tudyk. 

Whether it’s a Mad Max-inspired action set piece with vicious swarms of tiki pirate coconuts aboard ramshackle floating fortresses, a bedazzled undersea crustacean that lights up like a disco ball or biceps tattoo that spring to life, Moana fizzes with a fresh energy and wild imagination that makes for some truly eye-popping and creative scenes. The story follows a familiar formula – Moana is a princess in the same mould as Mulan or Merida rather than Anna or Elsa – but the visual design, vivid colours and rich animation go more than far enough in creating a unique experience in this latest adventure. 

The soundtrack, which Broadway sensation Lin-Manuel Miranda co-composed, is another winner that serves up at least two all-time classic Disney ballads in ‘Where You Are’ and ‘How Far I’ll Go’. Whether they have the staying power and viral potential of ‘Let It Go’ remains to be seen – but the emotional heft is the same if not greater in Moana. On more than one occasion this film will bring tears to your eyes – it’s a very beautiful tale that sees our protagonist torn between her duty to her people and her hunger for adventure on the open seas. Again, it’s classic stuff that feels similar to something like Mulan – but Disney bring enough new stuff to the table to make this another excellent arrow in their quiver. 

The musical delights aren’t confined to the two aforementioned tracks though – Johnson and Clement both get their moment to shine respectively in ‘You’re Welcome’ and ‘Shiny’, the latter of which is a Bowie-inspired disco pop track accompanied by enchanting fluorescent colours. Johnson (who knew that guy could carry a tune?) gives such a charismatic voice performance that it practically seeps off of the screen – simply put, he’s a hoot. It helps that the writing between Moana and Maui is so good as it brings out the best in Johnson and his newly discovered co-star. Their relationship is kept purely platonic and the movie is infinitely better for it.

The icing on the cake is how the film employs 3D; it adds another layer to the fluid animation, immersing you in Moana’s voyage. If one film demands to be seen in 3D this year, it’s Moana.

The Verdict: 9/10

Riding the wave of success Disney has enjoyed these past few years, Moana is yet another stellar sing-a-long for the whole family. It’s stirring, spiritual, moving and mighty as well as being gorgeous to look at and wickedly funny. Kids of all ages will love it; parents and grandparents will be equally as enchanted. Book this in for a family Boxing Day bout right away and thank me later.

Moana is in cinemas across Australia from Boxing Day.

This review was originally published over at Hooked on Film, a Perth based website where you can find even more new release movie reviews, features, interviews and insight. Click here to check it out.

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