Entertainment, Review

Review: Moana

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By Tom Potts

Image: movies.disney.co.uk/moana


Disney’s Moana is an enchanting story of a courageous teenage girl named Moana, voiced by newcomer Auili’I Cravalho. Moana ives on an unnamed Pacific Island and dreams of leaving her village and sailing the oceans as her ancestors did, much to the disapproval of her father. When a mysterious darkness reaches the shores of her island, the titular character sets off to find Maui, voiced by Dwayne Johnson, a “shapeshifter, demigod of the wind and sea, hero of men and women,” to help her restore balance to the world and protect her village.

Disney still manages to make this film feel original despite it being 79 years since Snow White, its first animated feature film, released in 1937. The Polynesian setting is as authentic as it can be without being set on a named island and the amount of research that went into this production is not unappreciated. Directors and scriptwriters John Musker and Ron Clements formed The Oceanic Trust in order to make a culturally authentic adaption of pan-Polynesian culture. Cultural practitioners, linguists, historians, anthropologists and traditional dancers from islands such as Samoa, Fiji and Tahiti made up this group and were consulted through various steps of production.

This authenticity can be seen in throughout the film for example, in the Samoan-nspired clothing worn by the people of Moana’s village, the chants in the background and the Tokelauan language in some of the songs. By embracing the cultures of the Pacific Islands and gaining input from the Oceanic Trust, Moana succeeds in creating something original without appropriating Pacific Islander culture. The film’s stunning animation also allows it to feel all-new and all-different, with the programmes Splash, for the ocean, and quicksilver, for hair.

Moana‘s soundtrack also offers something different to other Disney movies. The beat to the songs is distinctly Polynesian, and Lin Manuel Miranda channels something familiar for the Hamilton Fans out there. Stand out songs include ‘Where you are,’ ‘How far I’ll go’ and ‘I am Moana’. The songs offer something reminiscent of other Disney songs but they have a distinctly special vibe about them. Another great song is ‘Shiny’, sung by Tamatoa the Crab, played by Jemaine Clement. Bringing to mind David Bowie and Tim Curry, it is perhaps, one of the funniest parts in the film, the lyrics from this song, like many of the others, staying in the mind of the audience for days afterwards. For anybody interested, the entirety of the musical soundtrack can be found on Spotify and DisneyMusicVevo.

Charming characters such as Gramma Tala, voiced by Rachel House, Moana’s eccentric and in-tune with nature grandmother and the eponymous character herself are sure to be fan-favourites and they are perfectly portrayed by their voice actors. Their voices truly encapsulate their emotions; we can feel the sincerity of Tala in every word and the longing of Moana in ‘How far I’ll go’. Fan-art on various website demonstrates that they are fan-favourites, and indeed it isn’t hard to see why. Moana chooses to defy the wishes of those limiting her life and Tala’s role as the ‘village crazy-lady’ appeals to those among us who feel like they don’t fit in.

In terms of criticisms about the film, many Islanders complained about the ‘Pan-Polynesian’ blend of cultures that appear. Instead of showcasing the traditions, values and way of life of one society, Disney chose to pick and choose which elements of each native Polynesian culture they liked, something many have claimed is culturally insensitive. Other than this, the only other major criticism can be that the songs didn’t stand out at first, however after listening to the songs again online I can attest that I have listened to nothing but the soundtrack.

Definitely go and see Moana if you are a long time Disney aficionado, as it is sure to charm you in a way Disney has done since its Renaissance in the 1980s. Hamilton fans will enjoy the soundtrack, as Lin Manuel Miranda’s songs don’t lack any of the character or style seen in his other singing and songwriting roles. The average viewer will love it too, with stunning animation and an impowering message for the masses. In short, it stands out from other Disney films and brings something new, yet doesn’t conflict too much with what we all know and love about Disney.

For those interested, Moana can be seen in most cinemas across Manchester and the UK, with Odeon offering a student discount.

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