On the island of Motunui, Moana (Auli’i Cravalho) lives a quiet life. Ruled by her father Chief Tui (Temuera Morrison), with Moana next in line, the islanders have thrived for years. Chief Tui has forbidden anyone from ever sailing beyond the reef of their island though, and Moana has always wondered what lies beyond. When the island begins to wither under a curse, created when demi-god Maui (Dwayne Johnson) stole the heart of Te Fiti, Moana feels called to action by her ancestors and sets out to find Maui and make him return the heart of Te Fiti.
That brief synopsis is only scratching the surface of what Moana has to offer viewers. Filled with the kind of culture you’ve never witnessed in any animated feature before, this is a film that embraces its story, background, and characters. Honestly, the trailers just aren’t selling this one enough. There’s a rich history to be found within the film, all beautifully explored in its setup. Stories of gods and legends fill the opening frames, all leading up to a perfect merging of the stories with the reality that Moana lives in. It’s exciting to watch, beautiful to look at, filled with some great laughs, and most importantly, has a lead character that finally leaves the trends behind.
Don’t be mistaken, Moana is an amazing animated film. It’s fun and exciting, with just enough tension to keep you watching to see what happens, but that’s not why the film is so incredible. This film succeeds where so many others have failed, and will hopefully mark a turning point for films in the future. Moana is the most amazing character to grace a Disney film, whose history of offering princesses to the world has left some wondering why there wasn’t more to the characters.
Moana isn’t set to marry someone. She’s not searching for her true love either. Nobody questions how a young woman can do any of the things she does. She’s the next in line to rule the islanders, and nobody says a word about the fact that she’s a woman. She is simply Moana. She is able to do what she does because she is a person, not because she’s a woman. When she fails at something, it’s not because she’s a woman, and when she succeeds, it’s not looked at like an accomplishment because a woman has done it. I can’t tell you how wonderful it was to sit down and watch a film that doesn’t involve some kind of romance at the heart of it. It’s the reason I tend to steer clear of Disney films to be honest. This changes things. I can’t wait to see what comes next.
The performances are wonderful, from Auli’i Cravalho’s portrayal of Moana and Dwayne Johnson’s overly confident, slightly egotistical, and always funny Maui, down to the less seen roles like Moana’s grandmother Tala (Rachel House) and a hilarious sequence led by Jemaine Clement’s jewel adorned giant crab Tamatoa. The animation is incredibly well done, offering up swirling storms on the ocean, and some rather creative villains standing in the way of Moana and Maui. The music just adds another layer of perfection, and the songs will leave you singing your way out of the theatre.
That’s all just icing on the cake though. The reason to see Moana is because of the outstanding female characters they’ve created here. Little girls finally have a hero to look up to that isn’t out searching for a man. Little boys will realize that girls can do everything they can do, and that it’s not a shock when they do it. The world has shown that values and ideas are hard to change when we’re older. Moana couldn’t have come at a better time. This is a message that kids need to learn, so that perhaps they’ll be able to live in a world that is vastly different from where we are right now. See this because it’s a wonderful film that the whole family will love, but also because it’s a film that will teach kids the way things should really be in the world.