So Disney makes a much needed return to Polynesia since Lilo & Stitch being a vibrant and lush part of the world to set any story in; and with Disney being Disney they know exactly how to make use of that remarkable world.
We're planted in an ancient era of myth and tradition far away from technology, where legends, curses and demigods still exist setting the scene for a typical Disney adventure. The world, as they know it, is under threat and only by completing certain trials can it be stopped and of those conditions, Moana has to go against her over-protective father and tribal chief, and leave the island, which has been forbidden.
Introducing Auli'i Cravalho as the youngest Disney Princess at the age of 14, and her acting debut! Apparently being the last of a very long audition process she was the one who won them over with her fearless and playful wit who didn't seem to falter under pressure sharing a lot of qualities of the character of Moana. She's amazing and no one would guess this is not only her first film, but her first screen appearance full stop. No reality TV, or music videos, but here with Moana straight in at the deep end performing her own songs too. Have to say, quite a daring choice not having the experience and taking the title role to have Disney invest in Cravalho but by Te Fiti, it was a worthy risk.
Now she has to find and enlist the help of Maui, the egotistical, self righteous and self-obsessed Demigod who's obviously played by larger than life, Dwayne Johnson. Though not his first Disney outing, it is his animated debut and even though it's reported he was quite self conscious, citing voice acting to be the hardest form of the art, he done an amazing job, and HE CAN SING! The Rock, Hobbs and the Scorpion King treating us to a medley, making it his debut musical as well. They capture Johnson's mannerisms and movements really well, including his trademark People's Eyebrow adding to the few Disney Easter eggs to look out for that reference many of Disney's and Musker/Clements' work.
I would love to see behind the scenes purely for this, to watch and hear this gigantic man singing away, and to see the chemistry between Cravalho and himself. Can you imagine how intimidating it might have been for her, not only being entirely new but to share a platform with the people's champion. She was clearly in good, big hands and I believe the film reflects that.
There appears to be a good understanding for the ancient ways of the Polynesian ancestors displaying navigation by way of the nightsky and the currents, and their profound respect for nature and the spirit of the ocean, seeing them as deities that provide them with life and meaning.
Ron Clements and John Musker, the geniuses behind Disney classics like Treasure Planet, The Little Mermaid and a personal favourite, Aladdin direct, though they're not directing alone so credit also to Big Hero 6 directors Chris Williams and Don Hall who I'm assuming was mostly responsible for the CGI animation being a good mixture of the two resulting in beautiful , magical animation that urges me to return to Disney World so bad!
There's plenty to watch with the typical mascots that brings the story together, Maui's honest and silent tattoo and Heihei, the blundering chicken that provides a lot of the comedy of the story. But, there's wasn't enough screen time for the others. I wanted to see more of the coconuts as an example.
Something else it lacked was empathy, I didn't feel totally connected to the characters as I did with other Disney films and I can't really explain why. It's just I didn't feel sad enough at the points of the story where I should have.
There was a tease of a good score from Mark Macina with an intro that immediately reminded me of The Lion King opening, that I use to purposefully play upon waking up in the morning. Naturally, the songs are good with some instant recognisable sing-a-long tracks like "You're Welcome", "How Far Will I Go" and "Shiny" that sounds influenced by Bowie.
It's of the usual high standard Disney provides, dazzling animation, funny characters with a strong moral message about brave ambition. Its highly entertaining and I have no doubt majority of kids will love it, especially Heihei the chicken.
Running Time: 8
The Cast: 9
Job Description: 8
The Extra Bonus Point: 10 for Johnson's animated/singing debut and of course, Cravahlo's debut.