If you wear a dress, and have an animal sidekick, you’re a princess.
So the great Demi-god Maui (the one and only Dwayne Johnson) informs our titular heroine Moana (newcomer Auli’I Cravalho). And he is of course right. Moana is after all the Chief’s daughter and destined to rule her people making her royalty. Moreover, she’s the singing heroine of an animated Disney film, and that’s always automatic princess.
But Moana in other ways isn’t your typical princess. Being an Ancient Polynesian she never wears a gown, she lives in a hut rather than a castle, and there’s no prince on her horizons. In fact, she doesn’t even want one; Moana’s great dream is to sail beyond the Reef of her home island and reclaim her people’s history of voyaging. No Moana’s story is one of Adventure rather than Romance. She’s been Chosen by the very Ocean itself (depicted here as a living entity and fabulous character in its own right) to save her people from the growing darkness. Shape-shifting Demigod Maui, stole the heart of the earth goddess and loosed horrific monsters upon the world. Moana is set to make him return the heart and stop the threat. Maui takes some convincing. It’s the old couple pairing but Johnson’s hilarious portrayal of his cowardly lion/braggart demi-god and Cravalaho’s fresh earnest presence, find new joy in the formula.
And Disney has some creative tricks up its sleeve; twists and turns in the narrative that deepen the story, and visuals that can literally take your breath away. The color scheme of Moana is so rich and vibrant at times you can almost taste it, with the ocean waters incandescent. But then they find new ground as well in such techniques as Maui’s living tattoos that tell stories. A bioluminescent land of monsters with a giant bling-ed out Crab. A creature of living Lava and flame. It’s an embarrassment of riches that needs to be seen on the Big Screen. So this holiday season, take a break from the cold and dark and board Moana’s boat across the Polynesian islands.
Photos courtesy of Walt Disney Pictures.