For years, Disney has been aiming to amp up the diversity among their movies, mainly their princesses and heroines. From the lack of a love interest, to the color of their skin, to actually having both parents, Disney stories have been expanding beyond the typical Snow White/Cinderella archetype to begin to include all types of people.
The latest addition to the Disney heroine line is Moana, the daughter of the village chief. Her expected role is to lead, yet she feels called to explore the ocean.
The movie opens with her grandmother, Gramma Tala, telling a young Moana the tale of Te Fiti, an island goddess whose heart holds the power of creation.
After creating the islands, Te Fiti laid to rest and turned herself into an island. However, not long after, the demigod Maui traveled to the island in order to steal the heart so that he could have the power of creation.
Without the heart, the island of Te Fiti begins to die, as do the rest of the islands she created, which brings the story back to Moana and her home island of Montunui many, many years later. As Montunui begins to die, her grandmother implores Moana to sail across the ocean to find the demigod Maui and bring him to Te Fiti to restore the heart.
For this movie, a few of the voice actors are Pacific Islanders, including Temuera Morrison, the voice of Chief Tui Waialiki, Dwayne Johnson, the voice of Maui, and newcomer Auli’i Cravalho, the voice of Moana.
This is a nice change for Disney, which has been known to whitewash characters by casting white voice actors. I think that by casting Pacific Islanders in Moana, Disney is on the right track to proper representation.
Moana sets out on her journey along with her comedic, yet loveable, chicken HeiHei with the sole intention of finding Maui and delivering him to return the heart, but along the way she learns more about herself and her ancestors.
In the beginning, Moana and Maui work against each other, fighting for their own self-interests until they realize that they work better as a team. Although Maui doesn’t seem willing to give up his arrogant ways, Moana’s cleverness and connection with the ocean make him change his mind.
I think that Disney did a great job with Moana and Maui’s relationship by portraying it as a friendship, rather than a romance. Moana is such an independent character and I feel that Disney made the right choice in promoting her friendship with Maui.
I also really enjoyed Maui’s backstory. Compared to other Disney leading men, Maui’s character is much more complex and full of emotion. Instead of remaining the stoic hero throughout the entire movie, Maui expresses emotions such as sadness and despair and accepts help from Moana.
The ocean is also portrayed as a character in this movie. Beautifully animated, the ocean shows a range of emotions, from confusion to playfulness, as well as a sense of humor.
I like the dynamic between the ocean and Moana, which is one of friendship, rather than a controlling relationship. I think that this shows Moana’s humanitys and how uncertain she is about her future.
The score was written by Mark Mancina with original songs and lyrics by Opetaia Foa’i and Hamilton’s Lin Manuel Miranda. The instrumental score is beautiful and matches each scene perfectly. It sounds like a orchestral movie score while still maintaining a typical Polynesian sound.
The vocal parts of the score are equally as beautiful, providing a mix of upbeat songs, such as “Where You Are,” and ballads, such as “I Am Moana.” It also has some Polynesian-style chants that stay true to the origin of this story.
My personal favorite song is “Shiny,” sung by Tamatoa, a giant, glittery crab who loves to talk about himself. The song sounds very different from any Disney song I’ve ever heard, which is why I think I like it so much.
The score also includes pop versions of the songs “You’re Welcome,” and “How Far I’ll Go,” performed by Jordan Fisher, featuring Miranda and Alessia Cara, respectively.
I like both versions because they each have their own strengths. The pop versions include more vocal embellishments while the original versions, performed by Johnson and Cravalho, respectively, are very clean.
As with any Disney movie, there are also some hidden Easter eggs that the audience can enjoy. For example, Sven, the reindeer from Frozen, makes a quick cameo, along with Baymax from Big Hero Six. During the end credits scene, there is a reference to Sebastian from The Little Mermaid.
Moana also insists that she is not a princess, and Maui responds by saying, “If you wear a dress and have an animal sidekick, you’re a princess,” poking fun at the traditional Disney stereotype.
If you enjoy Disney movies, I recommend this one. With stunning animation, earworm songs, and likeable characters, Moana will not disappoint.