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Moana Movie Review

Moana: Ultimate Collector's Edition Blu-ray + Blu-ray 3D + DVD + Digital HD combo pack cover art
Moana is now available on home video. Read our review of the Blu-ray 3D + Blu-ray + DVD combo.

Disney's Moana (2016) movie poster Moana

Theatrical Release: November 23, 2016 / Running Time: 102 Minutes / Rating: PG

Directors: John Musker, Ron Clements / Co-Directors: Chris Williams , Don Hall / Writers: Jared Bush (screenplay); Ron Clements, John Musker, Chris Williams, Don Hall, Pamela Ribon, Aaron Kandell, Jordan Kandell (story)

Voice Cast: Auli'i Cravahalo (Moana), Dwayne Johnson (Maui), Rachel House (Gramma Tala), Temuera Morrison (Chief Tui), Jemaine Clement (Tamatoa), Nichole Scherzinger (Sina), Alan Tudyk (HeiHei the Rooster, Villager #3), Oscar Kightley (Fisherman), Troy Polamalu (Villager #1), Puanani Cravalho (Villager #2), Louise Bush (Toddler Moana)

Songs: "We Know the Way", "An Innocent Warrior", "Where You Are", "How Far I'll Go", "You're Welcome", "Shiny", "I Am Moana"

Buy Moana from Amazon.com: Blu-ray 3D + Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD DVD Instant Video

Walt Disney Animation Studios didn't release a movie last year. To make up for that, they've got two this year. The first, Zootopia, still stands among the very finest 2016 has to offer.
A smart and funny mystery surprisingly full of social commentary, that anthropomorphic animal picture drew rave reviews and became the rare original film to join the billion dollar worldwide grossers club. Disney Animation's second offering, Moana, arrives with clearer and more extensive precedent. This one's a musical and adds some further diversity to the lucrative stable of Disney princesses.

Set in Polynesia, Moana gets its title from its brave and headstrong protagonist. The teenaged daughter of Chief Tui and Sina (the rare Disney animation protagonist with two parents who stay alive throughout), Moana (voiced for most of the film by newcomer Auli'i Cravalho) lives on Motunui Island, a scenic place where residents are instructed to never leave the reef. Following the rules and staying safe would not make for a particularly entertaining movie, so fortunately for us, Moana is instructed by her quirky grandmother to go solve an old mystery that will help the family's island, which has recently been stung by bad coconuts and a dearth of fish.

Needing to restore a glowing green stone and make peace with the gods, Moana must team up with Maui (Dwayne Johnson), a shape-shifting demigod who stole the stone and brought trouble upon the people. Moana and Maui are as different as night and day. He's full of himself and proud of his beloved, magical fish hook. She's young and sweet and considerate of others. They are joined on this epic sea voyage by a nonverbal chicken functioning as animal comic relief.

Disney's latest princess is Moana, a Polynesian chief's daughter who is picked by the ocean to explore beyond her family's island.

Moana is directed by Ron Clements and John Musker, two men who have been making animated films at Disney as long as anyone. After years of working as animators, the duo made their directorial debut on 1986's The Great Mouse Detective. They followed that up with two of the studio's most beloved fairy tales, The Little Mermaid and Aladdin. They were the obvious choices to take the helm when Disney simultaneously tried resurrecting two of the company's most treasured traditions on 2009's The Princess and the Frog. The 2D animation revival didn't stick, but the fairy tale musical remains alive and well in the new standard of computer animation, a medium Disney has flourished in of late after a little bit of a shaky start.

Visually, Moana boasts all the sophistication and sheen of a Pixar production. But narratively and fundamentally, it is pure Clements and Musker Disney. The film is certain to remind you of past movies, most of which probably hold a special place in your heart. Certain aspects of Aladdin, The Little Mermaid, Pocahontas, Hercules, and Lilo & Stitch are recalled. But Moana is also its own thing, relying heavily on rarely-depicted Polynesian culture for flavor and texture. Maui is covered in tribal tattoos telling of his life's experiences. They animate when he flexes and when a point needs to be made visually.

The music, naturally, takes a Polynesian sound, with original songs written by Lin-Manuel Miranda (the creator of Broadway's popular and decorated Hamilton) and New Zealand group Opetaia Foa'i. It's tough to judge an original musical's songs on just one viewing, but these tunes seem to have the right blend of style and substance, even as they comfortably fit into standard Disney musical templates. The one outlier, "Shiny", performed by a giant, self-absorbed, cave-dwelling crab-like monster, assumes the sound of New Zealand folk duo Flight of the Conchords, suggesting that the monster's voice Jemaine Clement did more than just sing that number.

The kind-hearted Moana (voiced by Auli'i Cravalho) and egotistical demigod Maui (Dwayne Johnson) make for an odd couple of voyagers to explore the ocean together in Disney's "Moana."

Being a Disney animated musical fairy tale gives Moana weight that other original animated movies can never know. But it also introduces the weight of expectations and comparisons. Moana will need more than multiple viewings to stand up to the gold standards of your favorite Disney movies and songs. In fact, you may have to be under the age of 12
and not attached to any of the studio's many beloved musicals to embrace this fully. But as Frozen demonstrated, there are many, many children who meet those requirements and are ready to share their love. Moana has more to offer and more to like than Frozen, although it's not nearly as Broadway-ready as that 2013 box office titan.

It's also not quite as Oscar-ready. Moana has timing on its side, but two better movies from the same studio are competing for the same Best Animated Feature Oscar: the aforementioned Zootopia and Pixar's Finding Dory. Is there a chance that the three will cannibalize each other's votes, opening up the path for something from another studio to emerge victorious? Perhaps, but nothing else this year has been in the same league as those three while making the type of public impact that is almost always required for winning that award. Moana probably stands a better shot at winning the Best Original Song Oscar, where competition is typically not that intense. But Disney and Pixar have dominated Animated Feature, so it seems reasonable to assume one of the three could keep the company's streak alive.

Even if Moana comes up short in both of those categories, there is a good chance that a theatrical viewing of it would count as good preparation for Oscar night. That's because the film is preceded by Inner Workings, a charming original Disney short that shows the various body parts of a man waking him up and getting him to work without dying. Less derivative of Inside Out than you might fear, this 1980s-set 'toon directed by seasoned story artist Leo Matsuda proves to be quick-witted and funny, reminiscent of Pixar's better shorts but without as much of a one-joke feel. I would be shocked if it's not nominated for the Best Original Short Oscar. Without yet knowing its competition (beyond Pixar's Piper), it seems very capable of winning the award too, as Disney's Paperman and Feast recently did.

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Related Reviews:
Moana (Ultimate Collector's Edition Blu-ray 3D + Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD)
Now in Theaters: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them Doctor Strange
2016 Animated Films: Zootopia Finding Dory Kubo and the Two Strings Sausage Party Storks
Directed by Clements & Musker: The Great Mouse Detective The Little Mermaid Hercules Treasure Planet The Princess and the Frog
Disney Animation: Frozen Big Hero 6 Wreck-It Ralph Tangled Winnie the Pooh Pocahontas Meet the Robinsons

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Reviewed November 23, 2016.

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