Susan Granger’s review of “Moana” (Walt Disney Studios)
Gather the kids and let’s be thankful for “Moana” (pronounced Mo-ahna) – with songs co-written by Lin-Manuel Miranda (“Hamilton”).
On Motunui in Oceania, teenage Moana (Auli’i Cravalho) lived in an idyllic, self-sustaining Polynesian community. But, as daughter of Chief Tui (Temuera Morrison), she has been forbidden to travel beyond the barrier reef that surrounds their isolated island.
When she discovers her ancestors’ sea-faring past, her ailing Gramma Tala (Rachel House) explains that she has been chosen by the ocean to control its waves.
Plucky Moana calls on this watery power when her island’s resources deteriorate because the heart of Goddess Te Feti was stolen. Accompanied by Hei Hei (Alan Tudyk), a goofy, rainbow-colored chicken, she searches for the disgraced demigod Maui (Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson).
Using his magic fish hook, swaggering Maui, a tattoo-covered trickster, can shapeshift. But capable Moana prevails and, together, they hit the high seas on a quest, carrying a message of identity and staying true to your convictions.
Created as an adventurous coming-of-age story by Jared Bush (“Zootopia”) and Taika Waititi, along with directors Ron Clemente & John Musker (“Aladdin”), it evokes Polynesia’s folkloric beliefs, containing elements from Fijian, Samoan and Tahitian traditions. Moana means ‘ocean’ in Maori.
Demonstrating culturally sensitive casting: Auli’i Cravalho is Hawaiian, Dwayne Johnson’s mother is of Samoan descent, plus New Zealand actors who are part Maori – Jermaine Clement, Temuera Morrison and Rachel House – while Nicole Scherzinger has Hawaiian/Filipino roots.
Lin-Manuel Miranda worked with composer Mark Mancina (“Tarzan”) and Tokelauan-Tuvaluan Opetaia Tavia Foa’i, lead singer of South Pacific fusion band Te Vaka, crafting Moana’s melodic “Know Who You Are” and “How Far I’ll Go,” along with Maui’s “You’re Welcome.” Miranda sings “We Know the Way.”
The animation is amazing, filled with phosphorescent vegetation and shimmering blue water, and this is the first Disney princess movie without a love interest.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Moana” sets sail with an enlightened, empowering 8, introducing a new Disney heroine.