‘Moana’ review: The Polynesian princess story will warm your heart

Moana (played by newcomer Auli'i Cravalho) in 'Moana.'. Disney Pictures

There is something very charming and warm about Disney’s latest original animated feature, Moana — and no, it’s not because it takes place among tropical islands, though that does help the proceedings. The setting provides bright colours and an array of wildlife that makes the song-filled film a non-stop kaleidoscope.

Moana follows the story of young Moana (newcomer Auli’i Cravalho), the only daughter of Chief Tui (Temuera Morrison). Their home island is withering away from an unknown cause: trees are blackening and crumbling to dust, and all the food goes rotten almost immediately. Moana’s grandmother and “resident crazy person” Gramma Tala (Rachel House) tells her the historical tale of her people, and Moana — probably one of Disney’s most atypical princesses — heads out to save her family and her home.

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Accompanied along the way by Maui (none other than Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson), who’s literally a god, the twosome face foes and adversity to bring life back to the islands.

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Is this a fun movie?

It really is, and not for typical reasons. Sure, it has cute and fun dialogue, and the movie chugs along at a fair clip to keep things exciting, but it’s more Moana herself, along with Maui, who makes the film so enjoyable. For example, Moana doesn’t spend one second of time pining after a male counterpart. There is zero love interest from end-to-end, so everything Moana does is for herself and her family; there are no ulterior motives. And her relationship with Maui is strictly brother-sister, even though he’s a god and all.

Moana is brave, excited to explore, and unafraid of venturing off on her own. This is a role model girls of any age can look up to.

Are there any cute sidekicks?

There is a chicken named Hei Hei (Alan Tudyk), who isn’t quite right in the head. He provides endless chuckles with his cluelessness and somehow manages to survive and help out on the perilous journey to save his home. If you’ve never seen a chicken at sea, prepare yourself for that magic.

How is The Rock?

Somehow, The Rock transcends the boundaries of animation and brings his endless affability to the movie. Of course, the animators manage to bring The Rock-isms to the character of Maui, with sarcastic side-grin and all. If only we could all be so lucky to have a god sidekick like him.

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What about the songs? Are they catchy?

While it doesn’t seem like there’s a Let It Go equivalent in this film, the songs are catchy and bouncy, matching the fluidity of the movie. This is no happy accident: Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda follows up his award-winning Broadway hit by contributing seven original songs to Moana. The Rock’s main song, You’re Welcome, which is performed by Johnson himself, is a lot like Gaston from Beauty and the Beast: boastful and grandiose. Moana’s most stand-out song, How Far I’ll Go, is uplifting, and it’s not a stretch to imagine little girls singing this with their friends.

So what’s the bottom line?

If you have a daughter under 12 years old, Moana comes highly recommended. It is the first Disney film to really treat a little girl like the adventurer she may want to be. Pretty dresses, love interests and romance are wholly absent, replaced by sailing on the open sea, and the sense that the whole, vast world lays out in front of you, waiting. That is, of course, if you choose to go out there.

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