"So ... Tell me again about how this is not Frozen set to a Pacific Island twist?" The titular character (Auli'i Cravalho) gets up close and personal with the demigod Maui (Dwayne Johnson) in a scene from Disney's MOANA. Credit: © 2016 Disney. All rights reserved.


KEY CAST MEMBERS: Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, Auli'i Cravalho, Rachel House and Jermaine Clement

WRITER(S): Jared Bush (screenplay); Ron Clements, John Musker, Chris Williams, Don Hall, Pamela Ribon, Aaron and Jordan Kandell (story)

DIRECTOR(S): Ron Clements and John Musker


HERE'S THE STORY: The latest installment in Disney's princesses of all flavors collection, Moana stars Auli'i Cravalho as the titular character, a princess from an island in the Pacific Ocean. And for Moana, her grandmother (voiced by Rachel House) and the rest of her people, life is good. Then the fisherman notice a complete depletion of their main food resource – leaving them all in a desperate need for help from a higher power.

Enter Maui (voiced by Dwayne Johnson), the shape-shifting demigod of island legend that Moana is desperate to track down and have save her people. 

While he is a fun-loving would-be hero, Maui is also not exactly the easiest guy to track down, which is why Moana and her pet chicken Heihei (voiced by Alan Tudyk) set sail out across the ocean (and against the wishes of her tribal chief father) to find Maui. But once Moana finds Maui, she learns that he is also an egotistical, self-serving demigod who is also missing his magical hook and needs to go on a quest of his own to retrieve it. And thus, the island princess and the demigod come to an agreement: Maui will agree to come to her island and help if she will help him retrieve his magical hook.

So what happens when you put a princess on a boat with a seemingly suicidal chicken and a demigod who is a bit conceited on a quest to travel the ocean? The answer is straight out of Disney's patented formula for family-friendly entertainment.  

WHO WILL LIKE THIS FILM THE MOST? People who love everything Disney, Dwayne Johnson fans; those who enjoy films with strong female lead characters; those who enjoy family-friendly films that don't feel as formulaic as they actual are.

WHO WON'T (OR SHOULDN'T) LIKE THIS MOVIE? People who don't enjoy Disney movies and/or have grown a bit tired of the Disney formula; those who won't like the mythical elements of the film for either historical accuracy or religious reasons; those who would prefer a film with more depth/message than just one with a basic entertainment aspect 

SO, IS IT GOOD, BAD OR ABSOLUTELY AWFUL? The latest animated accomplishment in the company's longstanding history, Moana delivers enough expected – and a few unexpected – moments to be worthy of your attention at the theater. 

As one might expect, Moana looks beautiful and – thanks to a soundtrack curated largely in part by Hamilton impresario Lin-Manuel Miranda – sounds upbeat and energetic as one might expect. There is plenty of sing-along material for youths to enjoy and recite and there are enough jokes to keep you chuckling along with the story. The thing that works best in Moana, is the telling of the story itself and commitment of Alui'i Cravalho to her character. 

Cravalho shows no signs of Moana being her first major role, let alone first role ever, throughout the film. Instead, she interjects her character full of trepidation and nervousness when appropriate to the situation and then conveys Moana's growth with her vocal talents with skill and aplomb. While Johnson is obviously the biggest name in the cast and definitely nails down his part as Maui with skill, Cravalho's performance prevents her character from becoming either a one-note, over-the-top "isn't she great?" hero or an undeveloped character. Whereas the secondary characters drop in plenty of jokes, Cravalho's individual performance plus chemistry with Johnson is the current that keeps Moana flowing like the ocean on which they travel.  You get a strong female character, a male character that is deferential without losing any of his masculinity or purpose and a story that has enough twists and turns that it creates a world with magic that is engaging at best and simply interesting at its worst.

Co-directors Ron Clements and John Musker create a symphony of sounds and sights with Moana, their actors hitting their beats at just the right times to deliver the story that – while it doesn't do anything spectacular in terms of new animated storytelling ground – is solid from start to finish.



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