Disney’s “Moana” Is Their Best Animated Film in 25 Years!!!

By Scott Kurland

Film: Moana
Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Auli’i Cravalho, Rachel House, Temuera Morrison, Alan Tudyk, Nicole Scherzinger, and Jemaine Clement
Rated: PG
Directors: Ron Clements & John Musker, Don Hall and Chris Williams (Co-Directors)
Everyone thinks that “Beauty & The Beast” was the start of the Disney Renaissance. While the film did garner an Oscar  nomination for Best Picture, the story of Belle and her prince did not initiate the animation boom of the late 80s. “The Little Mermaid” was the film that jump-started Disney’s Animation department once again. Honestly, if you want to get really technical, “The Great Mouse Detective” was the film that reminded audiences just how good animated films could be. The irony is that the men behind “The Little Mermaid” and “The Great Mouse Detective” are Ron Clements & John Musker, and their directing history doesn’t end with those two films. They also directed “Aladdin”, “Hercules”, “Treasure Planet”, and “The Princess and the Frog". In other words,  they’re Disney legends of the highest degree. This week’s film is Clements & Muskers first CGI animated “Moana.” Let’s see how it stacks up in the Disney cannon shall we?

“Moana” is the story of a sixteen year old Chieftains’ daughter named Moana (Auli’i Cravalho). Moana lives in a small village located on the Polynesian island of Motunui. Everyone, is content to leave things as they are; everyone that is, except Moana. She’s being groomed to be the island’s next chief, but Moana has an adventurous spirit and a mysterious bond with the ocean which cannot be explained. Her father Chief Tui (Temuera Morrison) forbids her to venture past the reef, but the call of the ocean becomes impossible to ignore as Montunui is showing signs of decay Moana’s grandmother, Gramma Tala (Rachel house) tells her granddaughter that, in order to save the village, she must seek out the Demi-God named Maui  (Dwayne Johnson). Can Maui, Moana, and her pet chicken Hei Hei (Alan Tudyk) save Montunui? Or will they be too late?

This is a gorgeous film.  The scenery and animation of the water are beautifully designed as are the characters themselves. CGI animation provides detail in a film that traditional 2D can’t permit. From the freckles on Maui to the veins and wrinkles on Gramma Tala, no detail was spared. Usually, great animation is used to cover up the flaws in the story such as bad musical numbers or voice acting. This is not an issue in "Moana" which is, undoubtedly Disney’s crowning masterpiece. Everything about “Moana” is perfect. The film was written by Jared Bush, the man responsible for taking an 80s buddy-cop screenplay and turning it into “Zootopia;” another of 2016's best films. Bush’s writing is on point because he takes elements from past Disney films and blends them beautifully with Polynesian history. Be warned, this movie is incredibly emotional and, if you have young children, some of the action scenes may frighten them. 

In my opinion, what makes a Disney movie great is the music. “Moana” is one of the best Disney musicals by far. It's filled with amazing songs written by Opetaia Foa’i, Mark Mancina, and Lin-Manul Miranda. Whether it’s the nonsensical “You’re Welcome” featuring Dwayne Johnson as Maui gloating about how great he is, the glam-rockesque “Shiny” song by Jemaine Clement, or the heartfelt “I am Moana;" the music is just fantastic…take that “Let It Go”. The reason why the music works like “Frozen” or past Disney films did is because the music is written by Broadway composers and lyricists. You can’t go wrong with anything written by Lin-Manuel Miranda. I could go on all day about the music in this film and how clever it is, but I’ll spare you by saying this is a soundtrack you won’t get sick of easily.

I was impressed that Clements and Musker casted Polynesian actors, not just Hawaiian actors like Dwayne Johnson and Nicole Scherzinger. There’s actors from New Zealand as well, like Rachel House and Jemaine Clement. I’ve alway been a fan of Rachel House ever since I saw Taika Waititi’s “Boy’ and “Eagle vs Shark”. As Gramma Tala, House brings the wisdom of Rafiki with the absent-mindedness of the Fairy Godmother together. House’s voice is so rich and full of love as Tala that it jumps off the screen and into your heart. There’s another Waititi alumni in this film in the form of Jemaine Clement. It’s clear that Clement was cast not just for his comedic genius, but his velvety pipes as well. You can tell Clement is absolutely loving every minute he’s getting in the Disney sound booth.

The two stars of this film are not the animation or the songs, but Dwayne Johnson and Auli’i Cravalho. Johnson has always had a big personality and an animated character is the perfect vessel for his energy and talent. Johnson’s Maui is a larger-than-life Demi-God who happens to be suffering from repressed trauma. They could have made Maui a one-note comic relief guide for Moana, but Johnson brings so much heart, vanity, and life into this character. As for Moana herself, Cravalho is fantastic and the fact that she’s an actual teenage girl makes for a better performance. Because Cravalho is so young, you can tell she really identifies with the character she’s voicing. The real surprise Clements & Musker saved for last, was creating the dumbest character in Disney’s history in the form of Hei Hei the chicken. Hei Hei is voiced by Alan Tudyk , who is now a pillar in Disney's animated films having voiced  King Candy in “Wreck-It-Ralph” and the Duke of Weselton in “Frozen”. Clements & Musker take this award-winning actor and reduce him to squawking and shrieking. I loved every minute of it.

“Moana” is Disney’s best film since “Beauty & the Beast." Whether it’s the story by Jared Bush, the music from three talented musician, or the amazing acting from a talented cast, Moana is one of the best animated film of 2016. It's truly  a great family film that everyone old and young can enjoy. I highly recommend that everyone see “Moana” as soon as possible. Disney is on a hot streak and it doesn’t seem to be stopping.

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