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Moana: Movie Review

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Moana is one of my most anticipated movies of the year, back since the unveiling of the new princess last fall. Disney’s latest addition, put together by a team of directors including Ron Clements and John Musker, who’ve brought us some of my favorite films like Aladdin and Princess and the Frog, adds another instant-classic to the Disney repertoire. This time around we journey to the Pacific Islands to witness Te Fiti, the goddess of creation, whose heart is stolen by the demi-god Maui which then leads to his defeat and exile which ushers in a plague that will spread to the remaining islands.

Gramma Tala and Moana
Gramma Tala and Moana

On one of these islands is Moana, who as a toddler is befriended by the ocean and chosen to restore Te Fiti’s heart and her island’s salvation. Unfortunately for Moana, the daughter of a stubborn chief, she is barred from having anything to do with the sea and exploration despite her curiosity of the ocean. Moana, Disney’s first Polynesian princess, is voiced beautifully by Auli’i Cravalho who even bears a likeness to her character. Moana perfectly encapsulates the teen struggle for independence and the search for your fate and calling, though in a much more splendorous and epic setting. Like many princesses before her, she will disobey her parents and find who she’s meant to be. Moana’s ally and driving force is her kooky grandmother, Gramma Tala, who teaches and encourages Moana to follow her destiny.

moana-1In order to save her people, Moana first must find Maui the demi-god of the wind and sea, and convince him to return Te Fiti’s heart, which the ocean has given to Moana for safekeeping. Maui, perfectly voiced by Dwayne Johnson, is revealed to be a selfish, defeated, and powerless demi-god since losing his hook, gifted to him by the Gods. Despite his lack of weapon and power, he manages to be self-centered, conceited, out of touch, and not at all interested in helping Moana and rectifying his mistake. But like all reluctant heroes, they are left with no choice but to help one another.

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Pua (left) and HeiHei (Alan Tudyk)

Moana has the usual adorable Disney sidekicks this time in the form of a very dumb very awkward chicken named HeiHei, I will say I wish there had been more of the pig (Pua) throughout. It also features some great antagonists. The first ones that we meet at sea, the Kakamora, are a cute/savage homage to Mad Max’s War Boys. This is followed by the giant hoarding crab, Tamatoa, whose voice is provided by the amazing Jemaine Clement. His song easily became one of my favorite Disney villain songs of all time. And lastly, Maui and Moana must face the lava monster Te Ka.

The animation, which is a combo of computer and hand-drawing, is of course top notch. I caught myself staring in awe at the ocean and the characters’ hair at times since it looked so real. In addition to the superb animation, Disney brought to life a wonderful soundtrack. Lin-Manuel Miranda, Mark Mancina, and Opetaia Foa’i created beautiful and catchy songs for Moana; so good in fact that I actually bought something off iTunes. The music was also perfectly in line with Polynesian culture which really brought home a deeper meaning to the lyrics and story.

moana-2Disney does its best when it draws inspiration from old stories and myths. Moana is no different. This was a part of a culture I wouldn’t have learned about otherwise, and this will be great to ignite children’s (and adults) curiosities about Polynesian heritage. The cast includes an array of Polynesian actors, which adds a more genuine feel to the film and honors its backstory and inspiration. This movie comes at a time when appreciation and love for other cultures and heritages are very much needed. Moana will teach kids to conquer their fears, to follow their hearts, to learn where you come from, and to love where you are.

Moana (2016)
Director:  Ron Clements & John Musker
Studio:  Walt Disney Animation Studios
Genre:  Adventure, Family
MPAA:  PG
Release Date:  November 23rd, 2016
Author:  Roxy De La Rosa

Roxy de la Rosa Roxy and her dogs are San Diego natives all hailing from Baja. She is a graduate of SDSU with a bachelor's degree in Television, Film, and New Media Production. Roxy is a huge comedy film and sitcom fan who hopes to become a TV writer, but for now she spends her time "researching" Netflix when she should be writing.

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