For the past couple of weeks, I’ve been listening to the soundtrack of this film non-stop. I don’t know why I started listening to it. Especially considering that I’d never seen the film until this week. It was recommended to me on YouTube, which potentially shows you how much Disney I’ve been listening to lately. I guess it makes me feel better about how awful the world it right now. After months of ignoring it, I couldn’t resist the lure of the Rock singing a Lin-Manuel Miranda song anymore. Turns out, the soundtrack is absolutely amazing. It was only fair that I actually watch the whole film. At least I knew that if the story was bad that I’d have the songs to fall back on.
Moana is one of my friend’s son’s favourite films. It’s one of the ones that he will ask to watch repeatedly during the day. We’ve had several video chats where he’s just been chilling out in the background watching this for the umpteenth time. It was one of the recent Disney films that really passed me by. Despite being obsessed with Hamilton, I couldn’t even be drawn in by the idea of a Lin-Manuel Miranda soundtrack. Now I’m in my 30s, I like to pretend that I’ve matured beyond Disney films but I don’t know who I’m trying to kid. It’s not like I have a reputation to try and save.
There was also another part of me that suspected this was just going to be the same old thing. A young girl who wanted to make her own path instead of the one set out before her. As if we haven’t seen that before. This is just Mulan or Brave with a different setting. Obviously, I appreciated the Polynesian aspect of the film and the fact that the cast was made up of so many actors of Polynesian descent. It seemed like a good step for the film studio but, as a longtime cynic, I figured it was all just a gimmick to cover up a basic and unoriginal plot. Take a tired old story, add some ancient myths and legends into the mix and Disney can pat themselves on the back for helping diverse representation in Hollywood.
Obviously, I needn’t have worried. There is so much greatness about the film that I would happily have watched it on repeat. I can definitely see why my friend’s son is so content with his endless viewings. Not only are the songs all bangers but the film is absolutely stunning. It all feels so lush and alive. It’s like no other Disney film that I’ve ever seen. It has such a different energy and feeling to it. It’s a film that is unmistakably fuelled by joy and joy alone. It also has plenty of heartwarming and passionate messages respecting traditions while looking to the future. Now I can see why everyone has been making such a fuss about it for the past 5 years.
I admit that there is an element to the story that does seem a bit too familiar and worn. When Moana’s people start struggle, she must set out beyond the reef to help them. Defying her father’s orders and the tradition of her people, Moana sails the seas to save the people she loves. Along the way, she comes to learn some valuable lessons about who she is and where she comes from. It’s a classic Disney tale but wrapped up in a very appealing way. Our heroine is also a breath of fresh air. Being born to take over as Chief of her people, Moana has longed for the sea since she was a child. You see her fire and passion as you watch her struggle to do her duty while dreaming of the great beyond. She’s a wonderful character.
This is a film with many layers. You can find references to past Disney animated features and big Hollywood productions. Moana meets across a foe who are introduced in a scene mirroring Mad Max: Fury Road. It’s incredible. This film is funny but has a danger to it. It will entertain youngsters and older audience members alike. The cast is brilliant and ever character comes to life on screen. Could the story be improved? Is the script a little off in places? Yes. But when the overall package is this good, that doesn’t matter. This was just another hint that Disney were starting to make some much needed improvements with their animation. 2016 was the year they really started coming for Pixar’s crown.