Saturday, November 26, 2016

Movie Review #526: "Moana" (2016)

Director: Ron Clements, John Musker, Chris Williams, & Don Hall
Rating: PG
Running Time: 1 hour, 43 minute
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Moana (Auli'i Cravalho), daughter of the chieftain of their island, sets out on an oceanic adventure to find the demigod Maui (Dwayne Johnson) in order to have him return the heart of the goddess Te Fiti, which he stole centuries earlier.

"Moana" is the latest film from Disney Animation Studios. It is the second film from the studio this year, the first being the box office and critical juggernaut "Zootopia." Newcomer Auli'i Cravalho voices the titular Moana, who is the daughter of her tribe's chieftain. She has been drawn to the ocean ever since she was a very little girl, but her father has laws about not going beyond the reef that surrounds their island. Recently, however, the island has begun dying and the fishing grounds have dried up. The ocean has chosen Moana for a mission to save her people. That mission is to find the demigod named Maui, voiced by Dwayne Johnson, so he can return the heart of the goddess named Te Fiti, which comes in the form of a green stone, that he stole centuries early. If she succeeds, all of the dying life can be restored, not just on her island, but for all of Polynesia.

It is safe to say that Disney is having a fantastic 2016, even if no one else is. Now, they can add "Moana" to their list of stellar achievements. This is a beautifully animated family adventure film bolstered by brilliant voice over work, ever-evolving, lush, nearly photo-realistic animation, and well developed characters. Auli'i Cravalho does a fantastic job as Moana, who has a stellar vocal presence for such a young woman. Moana is a strong female protagonist, and though she has been labeled the latest in the Disney princess line, she is not your typical princess. This is one of the few Disney princess movies where the princess doesn't have a love interest. She is the hero of the story and is never a damsel in distress. Of course, this does not mean she can do everything by herself and she finds the help she needs in Maui, voiced by Dwayne Johnson, who eventually teaches her how to properly sail. Is there a more charismatic actor working right now than Dwayne Johnson? Get used to seeing him everywhere, because he is here to stay. Johnson plays his typical self, even in animated form, and does a flawless job helping bring the Polynesian folk hero Maui to life. His charm pours out of him, even when he's not physically on screen. He even gets a chance to showcase his vocal chops, and who knew the dude could sing in addition to all of the other fabulous things he can do?! Speaking of music, there are some really masterful, fitting songs written in part by "Hamilton" creator Lin-Manuel Miranda, as well as Opetaia Foa'i and Mark Mancina. Finally, New Zealand actor Jemaine Clement also gets a chance to sing a very David Bowie-esque tune as one of the antagonists of the movie, which is one of the best on the soundtrack.

"Moana" gives many of the other Disney princesses a run for their money in a film filled with genuine heart, a fantastic message for kids and adults alike, a ton of glorious humor, a pivotal story, and an exciting, fun, and emotional adventure. It's everything we look for in an animated feature wrapped up with some outstanding music and voice over work. This is the type of movie that can be truly enjoyed whether you are young child or just young at heart. Please take not only your girls, but your boys to see this magnificent movie!

My Rating: 9/10
BigJ's Rating: 9/10
IMDB's Rating: ~8.4/10
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 98%
Do we recommend this movie: ABSOLUTELY YES!!!

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