Featuring the vocal talents of Auli'i Cravalho, Dwayne Johnson, Rachel House, Temuera Morrison, Nicole Scherzinger, and Jemaine Clement
Directed by Ron Clements and John Musker
The story of our titular character begins when she is a toddler, fascinated by the ocean, but told by her father and mother (Temuera Morrison and Nicole Scherzinger) that their Hawaiian tribe doesn't venture out into the water. As she grows older, a now teenage Moana (brightly and confidently voiced by newcomer Auli'i Cravalho) is encouraged by her grandmother (Rachel House) to explore the vast aquatic landscape and when Moana's tribe finds its food supply deteriorating, Moana ventures out on her own to try and help her people. Along the way, she meets the demigod Maui (Dwayne Johnson) who eons ago stole the heart of island goddess Te Fiti who is systematically going island to island damaging the landscape. Together Moana and Maui try to help one another tackle Te Fiti and regain stability across the Hawaiian islands.
The most successful aspect to Moana is the voice acting. Auli'i Cravalho has a gorgeous singing voice, yet imbues Moana with spunk, personality, and charisma. The titular character would not have been as successful as it is without Cravalho at the vocal helm so kudos to the casting department for finding this unknown. Coupling that with Dwayne Johnson's hilariously egotistical Maui and the scenes between these two main characters turn into a treat.
Unfortunately, the film itself plays out a little too episodic and generic to feel unique. The trials and travails of Maui and Moana do little to advance the story, instead they simply feel like individual segments without a cohesive through-line. (A meet up with a giant crab which takes up a good ten minutes is amusing, as an example, but in the end proves rather fruitless in the grand scheme of things.) The music by the immensely popular Lin-Manuel Miranda doesn't help advance the story either a la the Menken-Ashman 90s era collaboration that brought us The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast. Miranda's songs are decent -- Moana's yearning (and Oscar-nominated) "How Far I'll Go" and Maui's fun "You're Welcome" being the best -- but in the end, they do little to add depth that we didn't already see. That being said, Miranda certainly has crafted better tunes here than we saw in Disney's last musical extravaganza Frozen.
There are some incredibly odd editing and directorial choices that harm the film sometimes (and I never find myself saying that about animated films), but overall, despite the somewhat negative tone of this review, Moana works...it just doesn't soar.
The RyMickey Raing: B-