Disney has released many well-anticipated films this year, however on November 23rd they released what could possibly be the most highly awaited animated film of 2016 – Moana. Here we see the introduction of Disney’s newest princess and she’s nothing like the others as she is the first Polynesian princess to hit our screens. But how does this movie differ from previous Disney Princess movies?
There’s something very different about Moana in the sense that yes, she is a Disney Princess however she is not a Disney Princess that needs saving. Moana does the saving. This film doesn’t even feature a Disney Prince, which is the first of its kind to not include one in the story whatsoever. Is this a new age of Disney Princesses? Even though Moana doesn’t label herself a princess she is the daughter of the Chieftan which would be considered the equivalent. The plot of the film takes the viewer on a magical ancient ride back to 2000 years ago in the South Pacific Islands where demigod shapeshifter Maui (Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson) steals the island goddess Te Fiti’s heart which is in the form of the stone. As she is the creator is all life before becoming an island, the islands that she created become cursed for those who live there. Te Kā, a lava monster, attacks Maui, Maiu then loses his fishhook and Te Fiti’s heart in the ocean which without the hook cannot shapeshift.
Some time passes and it shows our new princess Moana Waialiki (Auli’I Cravalho) as a young toddler playing by the ocean and it reveals to her the heart. Her father Tui (Temuera Morrison), the Chieftan of the island takes her away and she loses the heart to the ocean until she is a grown teenager. Her father expresses how she is to be the next chief of the island and must focus on her duties, however Moana feels a longing to travel the ocean and leave the island. She battles with her temptations due to her Grandmother Gramma Tala (Rachel House) and when she learns of the coconuts dying and no fish being found in reef she uses this as a chance to ask to look beyond the reef, however she learns the reason her father is so against it is because he lost his best friend to the harsher waters beyond the reef during his youth. Her Gramma Tala shows her a secret cave and tells her to bang the drum to reveal why she is so drawn to the water and upon doing so she discovers her people used to be voyagers of the ocean travelling from island to island. Moana is chosen by the ocean to save the islands and reveal the truth about her people.
After the emotional passing of her Gramma Tala who gives Moana the heart of Te Fiti contained in a necklace and tells her to go and save her people she embarks on a journey to find Maui and get him to restore the heart of Te Fiti back to the island and reverse the curse on the islands. Maui takes some convincing and demands the pair alongside Hei Hei, a dumb yet hilarious chicken who accidentally wanders into the boat, retrieve his hook before battling a series of creatures after the heart. These creatures include little coconut shaped pirates called Kakamora and a giant shining crab called Tamatoa. Maui has some trouble using his hook at first but Moana helps him to believe in himself and the pair travel to battle Te Kā. After being unsuccessful on their first attempt Maui refuses to help due to his hook nearly destroyed and leaves a distressed Moana alone. After the spirit of her Gramma Tala visits her in the form of a manta ray and encourages her to believe in herself and that she is worthy enough Moana manages to get past Te Kā with the help of Maui who has a change of heart. After restoring the heart it is discovered that Te Kā is actually Te Fiti without her heart. She removes the curse from the islands and replaces Maui’s now completely broken fishhook with a new one. Moana then travels back to her island and her family begin life as voyagers once more.
I generally really enjoyed the wide variety of characters in this film and for me they nailed the sidekicks with not one but two for our voyaging princess. As previously mentioned throughout the main part of the film she is accompanied by Hei Hei, who is a dumb chicken, but back on her island she has the most adorable pet pig ever called Pua, who resembles the mannerisms of a dog. The star of the show in Moana for me was definitely Auli’l Cravalho who voiced Moana Waialiki herself. What I particularly love about the casting for Moana is that they actually cast a sixteen year old Hawaiian native girl as Moana. She even looks just like Moana and I was so happy to see a culturally appropriate casting! This was her first ever role in film and in my opinion it was a great success, with an unquestionably beautiful singing voice to compliment her character. One absolutely huge pleasant addition to the cast for me was the appearance of Dwayne Johnson as Maui and how surprisingly good his singing voice was! Who would have thought of The Rock singing in an animated musical film? There’s a first for everything. Johnson captured the character Maui perfectly in his mix of arrogance and charisma which made you love the character whether you wanted too or not.
This movie was directed by Ron Clements and John Musker who also additionally came up with the story for Moana. The pair have worked together on previous Disney films such as The Princess and the Frog and The Little Mermaid. Out of the three ideas they drafted, they decided to run with the idea of Moana after taking a particular interest in the character of Maui. During the development, I was really pleased to discover that they sent a research team to the South Pacific and met with all kinds of people to help them gain an understanding of the culture. They called this the “Oceanic Story Trust” which helped to ensure cultural accuracy which I personally think was absolutely amazing. It’s so important for things to be culturally accurate but unfortunately, in many films this is not the case, so it’s really great to see the culture being so respected in this film.
Moana is doing well in the box office, with this weekend alone generating $28,270,989 and finished at the top ahead of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. Worldwide the movie has generated $179,540,979, which could even continue to increase further. Moana really is an emotional and beautiful movie, which any Disney fan will be sure to treasure for a very long time. Additionally, this is a film that many families will be able to enjoy with content engaging for both adult and child. The characters are heart-warming and make you laugh, the soundtrack is amazing and the level of cultural accuracy taken in my eyes is rather admirable.