Make way! Make way! It's time you knew, the village of... the Moana film... is all you need...
Okay, so that didn't really work. What I mean to say is that Moana is excellent and quite possibly the best Disney animated film in years (yes, including Frozen). The animation is (expectedly) stunning, particularly the ocean which is incredibly characterful for, well, a large puddle. The story isn't the deepest, with clear parallels of other Disney classics like The Lion King, Hercules and even Pinocchio, but then the hero's journey rarely deviates too far from standard tropes. Instead, you get a heartfelt, well-crafted plot that weaves elements of Pacific mythology and modern sensibilities well. It succeeds in giving both a sense of place and time whilst feeling pertinent to the modern day, particularly with themes of environmentalism, unintended consequences and self-identity.
The characters are wonderful, with some brilliant designs – Tamatoa, in particular, was a genuine laugh-out-loud moment that I did not see coming. Inter-character relationships feel real and well rounded, helping flesh out an already well-built world and giving it true emotional strength. The actions of the characters also feel consistent and clear throughout, allowing the plot to develop organically and at a good pace.
My one exception to that, and it is only a partial exception, is the kakamora, the coconut mask wearing 'pirates' that are used as a plot device to bring Maui and Moana together. As such a device it works well, helping establish and advance several key character traits, and as an action sequence it is stunning. But, as characters, the kakamora feel a little redundant. Like a lot of Maui's world (and Tamatoa fits into this as well) we don't get enough background explanation, which is a shame as the creature designs are often wonderful. In some ways, leaving things open is fine as it can lead you to research into the folklore itself, something Disney does do quite well. The kakamora are a good example of this type of storytelling and education, as they are a real myth from the Solomon Islands with a fascinating history. However the myths that have been chosen are disparate and rarely interlink, so rather than creating a fleshed-out world it begins to feel more piecemeal. As one of the largest Western attempts to highlight and promote Pacific culture, that feels like a missed beat.
On the other hand, the soundtrack is insanely addictive and catchy. It has been weeks since we saw the film but it remains a nearly nightly feature in our house, hopefully without causing too much neighbourly pain. Every track is just wonderfully upbeat and they often contain some clever lyricism. From the incredible voice work of Auli'i Cravalho throughout to the wonderfully surreal crustacean equivalent of Ziggy Stardust, the songs are all a delight. I've seen some fallout from Maui's solo "You're Welcome" as 'cultural appropriation', but personally I just see a wonderfully light-hearted and catchy retelling of Pacific folklore performed stunningly by Dwayne Johnson.
Speaking of which, Johnson is a standout here amongst a brilliant cast and absolutely alongside Auli'i Cravalho as Moana. Both perform their parts faultlessly and breath life into their characters far beyond what the script and story alone could manage. Johnson continues to impress massively with the range of talent he seems to keep discovering and I'm loving every second.
Which all builts up to a film that I believe will become an instant classic, ranked up there with the likes of Sleeping Beauty, The Jungle Book, The Lion King, and (yes), Frozen. It's heartfelt, timely, and beautifully crafted. You couldn't ask for much better.