Magazine article Variety

Moana

Magazine article Variety

Moana

Article excerpt

Moana

FILM REVIEW

Princesses come in all shapes, sizes, and colors, though Disney's latest addition to its ever-growing gallery of royalty - Moana, the daughter of a Pacific Islands chieftain - doesn't see herself as a princess per se. Yet, as her friend the Polynesian demigod Maui (Dwayne Johnson) is quick to point out, "If you wear a dress and have an animal sidekick, you're a princess."

Thankfully, while Moana (voiced by Hawaiian actress Auli'i Cravalho) is going through a pretty serious identity crisis in the new animated movie that bears her name, Walt Disney Animation Studios has resoundingly solved its own, delivering a musical adventure that's a worthy addition to "The Little Mermaid" and "Aladdin," two now-classic cartoons also brought to life by directors John Musker and Ron Clements, whose giftfor handdrawn animation translates beautifully to the realm of CG here.

More than "Tangled" and "Frozen," "Moana" keeps with the tradition that made Disney the leader in lively femaledriven family films, and yet it's the first to do so without so much as suggesting a love interest. The men who are in her life are shaped like Samoan rugby players, with egos to match: Maui wants mortals to adore him. And Moana's father is happy to enforce a rule that no one from their tribe is allowed to venture beyond the shallow reef that encircles their island, Motunui.

But the only force Moana answers to is the ocean itself, which behaves quite unexpectedly in an early scene, pull- ing back the tide so that she can walk through, peering at the walls of incredible sea life all around her as if staring into a giant aquarium.

It's a magical moment, and one that endears us to both Moana and the ocean for the rest of the film. Like witnessing Buzz Aldrin stare out into space as a child, we're afforded the opportunity to see an explorer make first contact with her destiny, and if there's any doubt that this is something special, the film frontloads two exceptional, original songs: The first conveys her father's play-it-safe mantra, "Where We Are," while the other gives voice to Moana's own horizon-challenging desires, "How Far I'll Go."

When Moana expresses her wish to set sail from Motunui on a quest to return to its rightful owner the heart of Te Fiti (a jade-like stone stolen years earlier by Maui), it's the song that makes the case. And what a song: "How Far I'll Go" is an inspired collaboration between "Hamilton" composer Lin-Manuel Miranda, longtime Disney music guru Mark Mancina, and Opetaia Foa'i, the lead singer of South Pacific fusion band Te Vaka. …

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