by Toby Woollaston
Disney’s first Polynesian-themed animated feature film since Lilo & Stitch (2002) has certainly landed with a splash. The film opened in the U.S. amassing over $200,000 in its first three weeks. This is perhaps standard fare for a tentpole Disney animated feature, but it is still nice to see such attention poured out on stories close to our own shores.
Moana is loosely based on the myths and legends of Polynesia and does well to coalesce these into an entertaining story. On an undisclosed Polynesian island we are introduced to the titular Moana voiced by newcomer, Auli’i Cravalho. She is chosen by the ocean to find the narcissistic demigod Maui (voiced by Dwayne Johnson), and convince him to return the stolen heart of the mythical island deity, Te Fiti. It is worth noting that a number of liberties were deemed necessary to shoe-horn in a story fit for consumption, and this has left some characters barely recognisable from their legendary counterparts.
Directed and co-directed by Ron Clements, Don Hall, John Musker and Chris Williams, and penned by a creative team too long to list (although I will mention Taika Waititi had an input), there is no doubting that Moana is a team effort. Its a wonder with all these chefs in the kitchen that they have produced a coherent film, but they did. In fact significant lengths were taken to achieve a high standard of story telling. In an interview with Huffington Post, lead director Ron Clements mentions how he and his co-directors visited islands in the South Pacific in order to gain artistic and authentic references for the film. Clements said of his experience that he encountered many traditions that had “respect for nature, respect for the ocean and the elements – all of these things – really had a huge influence on us and then began to make their way into this film’s story.”
Testament to its connection with nature, Moana unintentionally shares many similarities with the superb but little known Irish animated feature Song of the Sea (do see this film if you get the chance!). Despite being worlds apart in many ways, I was struck with how both films are similar in their treatment of myth and legend. They serve to illustrate how we are connected as humans.
I can’t finish this review without mentioning the music — original songs by Opetaia Foa’i and Lin-Manuel Miranda are incredibly catchy and you’ll be singing Jermaine Clement’s “Shiney” long after leaving the theatre. Moana opens in New Zealand on Boxing Day.
4 stars out of 5
You can see the published review here