Moana 2016 Still from Movie

Moana [2016], Disney’s latest princess film features its first Polynesian princess in a tale of gods, heroism, and the sea.  Moana (Auli’i Cravalho), is the Chief’s daughter and she longs to escape her sheltered island and voyage across the ocean, which she has a deep connection with.  When her island starts dying from within, Moana must set sail to find the Demi-God, Maui (Dwayne Johnson) and return the island Goddess, Te Fiti’s heart.

Screw the Romance: Over the past few years Disney seems to have recognized that every princess doesn’t need to find a prince.  Frozen the last insanely popular Disney princess flick, started the ball rolling, by featuring romance, not at the center of the film, but sidelining it.  What was important was the relationship between the two sisters.  In the case of Moana, the complete lack of romance is refreshing, and it makes the storyline, as well as the other character relationships so much stronger.  The movie focuses instead on the odd friend and mentorship between Moana and Maui, and the relationship between Moana and her grandmother (the two island misfits).  Both relationships are fun and sweet, but they also bring to life the importance of friendship and family, and how much these things make Moana’s character stronger.  One of the most memorable, poignant moments of the film occurs when Moana’s grandmother appears to her during her lowest moment, and convinces her to continue on and save the day.

Perfecting the Princess: Moana, the character, joins a long line of fantastic Disney princesses.  As far as I’m concerned, she’s second only to Mulan (who is the best).  She’s smart.  She craves adventure and isn’t afraid to go out and grab it for herself.  She’s far more exciting to watch then princesses of old, waiting, sound asleep for a kiss or for a fairy godmother to swoop in and fix everything.  It’s fantastic to watch the Disney princesses evolve into beings with personality, will and some actual control over their own stories. 

Picturesque: The animation, as always, is beautiful.  A lot of the beauty of the film lies in its location; there’s no way the white beaches and crystal clear waters of the Polynesian islands could ever be made to look unappealing.  It’s clear from the beginning that Moana is going to be a veritable visual feast, as soon as the ocean responds to tiny baby Moana and rises around her you’ll know you’re in for a treat.  The rest of the movie does not disappoint with an exceptionally sparkly crab, a giant glowing stingray beneath the waves and a beautiful island goddess.    

Disney Magic: Moana really excels at bringing in magic without making it seem cheesy, or without letting it shape the whole narrative.  There’s just some lovely little touches of magic throughout the movie.  Maui’s moving tattoos, for instance, are one of my favorite things about the film; simple, unexpected and so much fun.  They add so much joy to the film and work to shape and contextualize the character really nicely.  The moments with Moana and her grandmother looking back upon their ancestors is also beautiful and heartfelt.

Moana is a heartfelt, heart-warming movie that’s absolutely brimming with magic.