Polynesian princess Moana (Cravalho) is more interested in exploring beyond the reef than preparing to take over from her father (Temuera Morrison) as chief of her tribe. But when famine threatens the island and Moana's grandmother (Rachel House) reveals her tribe were once a sea-faring folk, the adventurous Moana sets out to save her people. The mission? Find and force shape-shifting demi-god Maui (Johnson) to return a fertility heart stone to feared goddess Te Fiti, the mother of islands, whose anger at its loss is the cause behind the rotten coconuts and the missing fish…
Moana (pronounced Mo-ahna) continues Disney's break with its past of late in writing positive role models for girls. That the totally independent Moana won't accept limitations imposed on her and follows through on what she knows is right is a terrific message for younger viewers (being able to become chief yet forbidden to go beyond the reef possibly representing the glass ceiling could admittedly be critical analysis run amuck). Refreshingly, Moana is completely shorn of a romantic subplot.
The story might develop episodically – escape reef, find Maui, find Maui's fish hook, flee the pirates, locate Te Fiti, and so on – but each episode boasts enough adventure and wonder and weird things to smooth things over. The pirates – tiny, coconut-wearing inventive warriors (think Dennis Hopper's army in Waterworld, but coconuts) - could do with a movie of their own, and the vain snail that has stolen Maui's fish hook is a hoot. Maui himself, with his perpetual self-promotion and obsession with hero status (and his animated tattoos that act like his conscience and bring him down a peg when needed) is a lot of fun.
The rules of the story can lean towards inconsistency though. The ocean, using James-Cameron-in-The-Abyss water tentacles, helps Moana on occasion and guides her on her way, but is then strangely absent when she’s in grave danger. If it can part to secure safe passage, and physically pick her up and plonk her down where it wants, why then is escaping the reef such hassle? And if it can zoom her about willy-nilly, why does she have to sail all the way? Critical analysis run amuck again but just saying. The villain, as impressive looking and scary as Te Fiti is, is largely absent until the finale. There aren't any Frozen showstoppers among the songs either.
But kids won't care about all that. They'll be dazzled by the vibrant colours and have fun with the sparkling one-liners Johnson and newcomer Cravalho exchange.
Review by Gavin Burke | 11:17 | Friday 18th November 2016 | Movie Review