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Moana – Review


Release Date: 2nd December 2016
Director: John Musker - Ron Clements - Don Hall - Chris Williams
Writer: Jared Bush - Ron Clements - John Musker - Chris Williams - Don Hall - Pamela Ribon - Aaron Kandell - Jordan Kandell [Screenplay]
Cast: Auli’i Carvalho - Dwayne Johnson - Rachel House - Temuera Morrison - Jermaine Clement



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Posted December 4, 2016 by

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Moana Review:

In Disney Studios latest animated film, ‘Moana’, the titular Polynesian heroine accompanied by her comic relief cross-eyed pet chicken sets out to restore the heart of a far away island with the assistance of a demi-god who wants to get his hook back.

Well, I’m glad I didn’t have to pitch that one.

Unlike ‘Frozen’, ‘Moana’ doesn’t have the underpinnings of a strong family story. The heroine (voiced by Auli’i Cravalho) of indeterminate age, is raised to become the next great leader, defined by putting one rock on top of another in a token attempt to raise it another inch above sea level. But (understandably) she wants something else. There must be more to life than a game of ‘rock-paper-scissors’ across the generations, which is more like ‘rock-rock-rock’.

When the sea makes way for her to recover an ancient stone, she discovers that her ancestors were explorers. She learns how to control a skiff in a storm the hard way – is there ever an easy way – before she comes face to face with the muscle-bound Maui (voiced by Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson), whose tattoos betray a conscience within his arrogant, confident exterior.

What’s so great about Maui’s hook? Well, it allows him to change shape, from an eagle to a warthog to a Republican. Well, maybe not the latter, but it allows him to overcome impossible odds, as opposed to possible odds, which mustn’t be odds really.

Maui and Moana do battle with piratical cocoanuts – I am really glad I didn’t have to pitch that one – before they encounter the treasure loving Smaug, sorry a crab voiced by Jermaine Clement who sings a song called ‘Shiny’.

The combination of visual and verbal humour – slapstick from the tattoos and the cross-eyed chicken – offers a steady series of smiles if not belly laughs. The fire demon that Maui and Moana encounter is like a character from ‘Lord of the Rings’. After all, aren’t they just casting a prized object into a variant of Mount Doom?

There must be something perverse about taking narrative riffs from Middle Earth and re-casting them in Polynesia near where Peter Jackson’s JRR Tolkein adaptations were filmed. Perverse or cynical! At one point, the Rock – sorry Maui – sings a song called ‘You’re welcome!’ and it’s like a dig in the ribs; ‘I’m giving you something you’ve seen before – you’re welcome!’

Stylistically, the film is closest to ‘Lilo and Stitch’, the Hawaii set animated film in which a young girl befriends an uncontrollable – and very bitey – alien. ‘Moana’ is rendered through three-dimensional computer imagery, with some brighter than life detail – a trail of shells that Moana follows are particularly beautiful. The soundtrack benefits from songs by Lin-Manuel Miranda, whose hit Broadway show, ‘Hamilton’ is being staged in London in 2017, though they aren’t as memorable as the ‘F’ movie.

Shepherded to the screen by Disney Animation stalwarts John Musker and Ron Clements, whose credits include ‘The Little Mermaid’, ‘Aladdin’ and ‘Hercules’ as well as, ahem, ‘Treasure Planet’, it benefits from a lively pace, some catchy tunes as well as good vocal interplay between Johnson and Cravalho. The ending is, in the final analysis, a bit corny. Its message seems to be: if you steal my jewellery, I’ll breathe fire on you. That doesn’t sound magical; it’s more like a Kardashian.


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Larry Oliver
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