“Okay, first, I’m not a princess, I’m the daughter of the chief.” No Disney female lead (or in this case, the only lead) has made this kind of distinction so explicitly before. Because it is true, the lovely, bright, inquisitive and talented Moana is not your quintessential Disney princess. She is a damsel in distress, yes. But only because she is not allowed what she can do to save her people from misery. Much of this distress stems from her own desire to push the envelope, or in this case, the ocean (which, by the way, pushes her back, literally).
This Ron Clements and John Musker directorial is bold, graceful and simple. Not unlike its heroine, who, throughout the film, displays an adventurous streak, befitting a teenager. Moana has powers, but she is also just like any other regular girl who wants to explore the world and keep her family happy. This relatable Disney tale is told at an epic scale with wonderful visuals. And though it is hard to choose one, but if I had to, I would pick the dancing-animated tattoos on Maui’s body as my favourite effect. The tattoos are the demigod’s friends and his conscience. They are also a result of lived experiences and tell the backstory of Maui better than he can.
The story revolves around one teenager, Moana, who always feels that the ocean is calling to her, and that her people should explore more of the world and venture out as voyagers. However, when she comes to know of her true lineage, Moana becomes determined to revive her culture, and with it, bring in peace and prosperity to her community. Moana is also one of those stories from the Disney pantheon where the saviour is not a white man, but a coloured young girl. Her beautiful language and her traditions capture the spotlight in Moana. The songs are catchy too, and Maui’s (voiced by Dwayne Johnson) chemistry with his daughter-like friend is also one of the highlights of the feature.
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A round of applause for Auli’i Cravalho, who made her debut with Moana as the titular character. She not only voiced the character, but also sang the songs, the most popular one being “How Far I’ll Go.” To try and accurately represent the diverse culture of the Polynesian people, the featured songs on the soundtrack were sung in a variety of languages, including English, Samoan, Tokelauan, and Tuvalu.
Let us also talk about how in Moana’s narrative, three women play the most pivotal parts possible. One is Moana herself, it is her journey that we watch unravel on screen. The second is Moana’s grandmother, Tala. Without her ‘gramma,’ Moana would not have heeded attention to her calling and become the brave young lady we ultimately see her become. And finally, there is mother earth herself — Te Fiti, who is at the core of the narrative’s conflict.
Bottomline: Animated or not, Moana is one of those rare, almost-perfect films where every department of moviemaking works harmoniously with each other. You can watch it on Disney Plus Hotstar.