Dog’s Movie House: “Moana” An Instant Disney Classic!
Howdy Folks! It’s The Kendog!
Disney is on a hell of a roll lately. With “Star Wars,” “Zootopia,” “The Jungle Book,” “Finding Dory” and “Civil War” making incredible amounts of cash (and being darn good movies to boot), the House of Mouse could already close the books on a record-setting year. But they aren’t done yet. In a couple of weeks we get our first stand alone Star Wars movie, “Rogue One.” Before that tent pole, however, Disney Animation has another gem on its hands in the form of “Moana” one of the most colorful and touching films of the year!
“Moana” is the name of a young girl destined to become the leader of her people. She is a spirited young woman (are there any other kind in Disney animated films?) who understands duty but, from an early age feels to pull of the sea. Moana (a wonderful Auli’I Cravalho) is aided in her adventurous spirit by her Gramma Tala (Rachel House) and even by the sea itself, which seems to have developed a relationship with her. Opposing her adventurous spirit is the current chief, her father Tui (Temuera Morrison) who believes that sailing beyond the reef is too dangerous and that the island will provide everything they need. When a sickness starts to come over the island, Moana is forced to take action, sailing across the sea with the recently discovered stone known as the Heart of Ti-FIti, searching for the demi-god Maui (an electric Dwayne Johnson) to help her sail to the mystical island, restore the heart and break the curse.
“Moana” takes the tried and true Disney Princess Formula and puts a whole lot of original topspin on it. Moana has many of the traits of the typical Disney Princess, but she is not ignorant of her duty: her actions are not out of a selfish need for adventure but out of duty to her people. She is also mostly on her own throughout the film, especially in her search for Maui, and when he finds the mischievous demi-god, he’s often as much hindrance as help. There is no love story here: “Moana” functions more like a buddy comedy with quick wit, wonderful characters, and some terrific animation.
Veteran directors Ron Clements and John Musker (“Aladdin”) know how to pace the story and also creatively insert fantastic musical numbers (some written by “Hamilton’s Lin-Manuel Miranda) into the narrative without slowing down the story. And the music is really good, with my favorite being Maui’s hilariously self-serving ode to himself “You’re Welcome.” Jared Bush’s screenplay gives everyone a chance to shine, including an impossibly stupid chicken named HeiHei (vocalizations by veteran genre fave Alan Tudyk) who gets some of the biggest laughs in the movie by simply acting like, well, a chicken.
The animation is gorgeous, but that’s par for the course in any Disney production. What makes this film pop visually is the use of vibrant color to illustrate the sea, sea life, and the equal colorful depiction of Polynesian culture. I honestly don’t know much about said culture, but this movie made me want to learn. In my head I was mentally redoing Disneyland’s Enchanted Tiki Room to fit with some of the colorful characters in “Moana.” Even when things seem bleak there is an unshakable spirit and joy to the village and its inhabitants that will put a smile on your face whether you like it or not.
It helps that the voice cast is flat-out awesome. Young Cravalho has terrific energy and humor as Moana, exhibiting a combination of maturity and optimism that instantly makes Moana one of the top tier characters in Disney animated cinema. She’s matched by Johnson’s performance as the blustery demi-god Maui. Maui has his own demons to face and journey to take and how Maui evolves from egotistical malcontent to Moana’s true friend and demi-god is one of the greatest pleasures of the film. And I just love that his Maori tattoos serve as his conscience as well has his personal history book. The film also gets fine supporting performances from House as Tala, Morrison as Moana’s strict but well-meaning father, and Jermaine Clement as the giant crab Tamatoa, a creature who is equal parts hilarious and frightening.
All of these ingredients come together in a delightfully entertaining stew that you’re going to want to eat (metaphorically speaking, of course) again and again. “Moana” is a joy to behold for the entire family and is destined to become a home video (or streaming if you prefer) staple for families for years to come. 5 Out Of 5 on Kendog’s Barkometer! So Sayeth The Kendog!