Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB. USA, 2016. Walt Disney Animation Studios, Walt Disney Pictures. Directed by Ron Clements, John Musker. Story by Ron Clements, John Musker, Chris Williams, Don Hall, Pamela Ribon, Aaron Kandell, Jordan Kandell, Screenplay by Jared Bush. Produced by Osnat Shurer. Music by Mark Mancina. Production Design by Ian Gooding. Film Editing by Jeff Draheim. Academy Awards 2016. Golden Globe Awards 2016. Phoenix Film Critics Awards 2016. Washington Film Critics Awards 2016.
Moana, daughter to the chief of her village, longs to go beyond the shallow waters surrounding her island, but her father refuses to let any of his subjects travel. Her grandmother puts her in touch with her people’s history, telling her that they were once great voyagers before a mischievous demigod named Maui (voiced by Dwayne Johnson) stole the stony heart of the island’s goddess and cursed the ocean’s food supply. Moana takes it upon herself to cross open water and rectify the situation, teaming up with the temperamental Maui and encountering no end of obstacles including a giant, flamboyant crab, while also aided on her journey by the spirit of the ocean itself. Disney’s beautifully animated fable dips into Hawaiian folklore for a pleasant and fun film whose varied elements would work better if they weren’t all trying so hard to be meaningful. The sweet-natured relationships are constantly begging to be poignant, the songs are desperate to be as popular as the best that Disney tradition has ever had to offer (and yet have some of the least creative or poetic lyrics that a Disney song ever mustered up) while the action sequences keep daring you to declare if you’ve ever seen the like. It also doesn’t help that the plot is a rehash of Brave with the trappings of a different culture: the response to an audience’s demand for diversity should be an actual exploration of a tradition, not simply a people’s physical attributes and the odd cultural totem applied to people who talk and walk like modern day middle Americans. The studio’s best rendering of the Aloha state remains Lilo & Stitch, which for all its watercolours and simple stranger in a strange land narrative packs a much deeper punch by not being self-congratulatory or presumptuous.