The fifty-sixth animated feature by Disney, Moana tells the story of the headstrong daughter of a Polynesian tribe leader, who must cross the oceans to reunite an ancient goddess with her missing heart and stop the blight on her island. Along the way, she recruits Maui- a legendary shape-shifting demigod who stole the heart in the first place.
The film is beautiful. Well, that goes without saying, but everything is so vibrant and detailed- even down to individual blades of grass and the skin texture beneath Maui's tattoos (things that you might not usually notice). From the lushness of Moana's home island Motonui to the vast oceans and the underwater Realm of Monsters, it's a real treat for the eyes.
Newcomer Auli'i Cravalho is absolutely brilliant as the voice of Moana. Impetuous, strong-willed and determined, Moana refuses Maui's claims that she's a 'princess' (with all the negative connotations that brings) and sets out to save her island. But she's not perfectly equipped to do so- whilst she has a love of the ocean, she's not a wayfarer (at least not to begin with)- and when she has her crisis of faith, you really feel for her. It's an impressive vocal performance.
The other really refreshing thing about the film is there's no love story; Moana isn't expected to wed anyone or finds a dashing young man on her travels. The relationship between her and Maui is one of a grudging friendship burgeoning into respect (even one of a mentor/mentee in places)
Dwayne Johnson is on top form as Maui, the cheeky, cocky demigod. He's a larger-than-life character and the idea of having his tattoos move is a fun one. Johnson's performance is solid and really works. Jemaine Clement (Flight Of The Conchords, The BFG) is similarly great as the voice of Tamatoa, a hoarding coconut crab who gets a trippy, psychadelic Bowie-infused number called 'Shiny'- and gets a good postcredits scene too.
Rachel House gives a warm and sensitive performance as Moana's grandmother Tala whilst Temuera Morrison (Once Were Warriors, Attack Of The Clones) and Nicole Scherzinger provide strong support as Moana's father and mother. Finally, Alan Tudyk is credited as Moana's pet chicken Heihei, possibly the stupidest creature to ever appear in a Disney film and also responsible for one of the film's finest visual gags.
The music- by Mark Mancina, with songs by Opetaia Foa'i and Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda- is also really strong, taking inspiration from Polynesian instruments and sounds to create a sublime score. The songs range from the perfectly serviceable to the instant classic- with Maui's paean to himself 'You're Welcome' and Moana's heartfelt 'How Far I'll Go' the particular standouts.
All said, it's a wonderful story, superbly animated and performed, Plus it's got a cute pig and an army of sentient coconut pirates. What more do you like?
Before the film, there was an aminated short called Inner Workings which was a lot of fun- showing the battle between heart and brain in an unassuming office worker.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5