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REVIEW – “Moana”

Young Moana interacting with the Ocean.

In Disney’s latest destined to-be smash hit, Moana, the titular character is an adventurous teenager (voiced by newcomer Auli’i Cravalho) who has been drawn towards the ocean for her entire life, but is constantly reminded by her father of the dangers that are found beyond their land and the responsibilities that keep her kept where she is. However, when all the food and crops of her village are beginning to come up rotten due to a mystical disturbance in the land, Moana sets sail with her trusty sidekick/chicken Heihei (Alan Tudyk) in attempt to find the immortal demi-god Maui (Dwayne Johnson) and restore stability and peace to her homeland. On this journey, Moana and Maui both encounter harsh weathers, incredible monsters, and discover their destiny to come to terms with their identities.

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It’s almost needless to say at this point, since Disney never lacks in this regard, but the animation in Moana is absolutely gorgeous and awe-inspiring. The photo-realism that is put into the ocean, the creativity that is met with designing the marvelous creatures that our heroes encounter, and the highly detailed characters are met with a surprisingly splendid use of 3D that actually enhances the story and action. One of the best aspects of the animation is its use of the Ocean itself. Moana treats the Ocean as an actual character, plot device, and it pays off marvelously by the time the film comes full circle. Another tool that enhances the pace and adventure of the film is its use of music; most of which was crafted by Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda. Not only are the songs in this film exceptionally catchy and wonderfully written, but they actually forward the story and serves purpose when it comes to the plot and character development. I wouldn’t be surprised if How Far I’ll Go ends up becoming the next Let It Go of 2016.

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Newcomer Auli’i Cravalho does a magnificent job at voicing Moana herself, who brings a lot of weight to the personality that inhabits the character. Moana is an immensely strong-willed, interesting, and complex heroine that twists the “princess” cliche that Disney films so often succumb to. When she meets up with Maui, who Dwayne Johnson evidently has a ton of fun voicing, the male presence in the film far from detracts or takes away from the specialty of Moana herself – but simply provides a greatly entertaining character in his own right and surprisingly becomes complex by the time the film is over. The two have excellent chemistry with one another, both in terms of humor and how they help each other come to terms with their identities and personal struggles. It’s never cheap, just simply earned and truly heartfelt in a classic Disney way.

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My only real issue with the film is that once you get close to the third act, you begin to feel the running time of the film. However, it quickly jumps back into action in a very short amount of time for an ending that knocks it out of the park. The most admirable thing the finale does is subvert your expectations by disproving the notion that finales must be bombastic and the “bad guy” of the story must be defeated in a glorious fashion, opposed to simply being understood. This delivers an excellent message about believing in yourself, believing in what you want out of life, and preserving your culture by taking great pride in it.  It’s a wonderful encouragement for children to discover the world by going in whichever direction their hearts take them. All of this makes for Moana to be not only some of the most fun you’ll have this year, but a perfectly sweet and genuinely inspiring tale of cultural identity. 4/5.

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