Friday, 16 December 2016


Walt Disney Studios Films

Disney animation has undergone somewhat of a rebirth since the late noughties, now rivalling their younger but smarter sibling, Pixar, in both visual and narrative storytelling: Wreck-It-Ralph, Frozen, Big Hero 6 and Zootopia all on par with or besting their stablemates.

And yet, much like it has since the days of founder Walt Disney, the focus has remained on female-driven narratives. But other than Tiana, the heroine in 2009's delightful The Princess and the Frog (2009), those women -- in Tangled (2010), and Frozen (2013) -- have been white. No more.

Joining Tiana, and her 1990s sisters, Pocahontas and Mulan, is Moana: a Polynesian princess with a thirst for adventure and, equally refreshing, no interest in romance. Moana wants to see the world beyond the reef of her island paradise, but her father, the Chieftain, forbids anyone, male or female, to venture that far.

Encouraged by her incorrigible grandmother (Rachel House), and an impending environmental disaster, Moana (voiced by Auli'i Cravalho) defies her father (Temuera Morrison) and sets sail across the Pacific in search of the demigod, Maui (Dwayne Johnson), whose help is required to return the heart (an emerald stone) to the goddess Te Fiti, and in doing so, restore balance to the world (the reasons for this recounted vividly by grandmother in a folktale which opens the film).

From the creative team behind Disney's Aladdin (which this reviewer shamefully admits to having never seen), Moana is a colourful adventure full of heart, spirit, and humour. And its 'girl power' and pro-environment messages are delivered sans sledgehammer.

Not so effective is the music. Much has been made about the songs having been penned by Lin-Manuel Miranada, the brains behind the Broadway behemoth Hamilton. But unlike most Disney musicals, you'll be hard-pressed to remember a tune let alone an entire song once you leave the cinema. They work fine in the moment, but there is no Let It Go showstopper in this female empowerment story.

Still, with Moana, Disney animation proves it has set its new course in the right direction.

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