Disney’s 56th animated feature takes to the ocean waves with a Polynesian princess.


You have to hand it to Disney. The company has spawned a catalogue of plucky, independent female characters and placed them in a variety of cultures across the globe. For its 56th animated feature, Disney has drawn on the mythology of Polynesia and introduces us to the fearless and single-minded Polynesian princess Moana Waialiki (voiced by the Hawaiian actress-singer Auli'i Cravalho). Perplexed by her father’s refusal to allow his subjects to venture beyond the reef of their island, Moana takes to the ocean in a catamaran she finds hidden in a cave. It is her quest to discover a domain beyond her own in order to rescue her people whose food supplies are dwindling. It’s a Whole New World. But she is not entirely alone: she is accompanied by a stowaway rooster, the brash demigod Maui (Dwayne Johnson) and by the sea itself, a protean force that is constantly coming to her rescue…


The directors Ron Clements and John Musker previously brought us The Little Mermaid and Aladdin, so they should know a good story when they see it. Here, though, they are working on a tale concocted by seven different writers (including themselves). Hans Christian Andersen didn’t need six co-authors and yet he still gave us some of the most engaging and heartbreaking stories of all time. And that’s the problem with Moana: it’s an episodic odyssey crammed with elaborate sequences, anthropomorphic creations and the odd song (courtesy of Lin-Manuel Miranda). But for the most part it’s the story of two bickering characters stranded at sea – like Life of Pi without the tiger. There’s a frightening monster the size of an island and made of magma (which hurls molten fireballs at our protagonists), there’s the ghost of Moana’s grandmother and an accommodating wave. But what the film lacks is a human dynamic to which audiences can relate.


The computer animation, though, is predictably breathtaking, with particular attention paid to the textures of the water, hair, wood and velum. But the tribespeople themselves are rendered like rubber dolls, which creates something of a visual dichotomy. Everything looks so realistic – except for the characters we are meant to identify with. Is this just a calculating ploy to fit in with the marketing needs of Disney? The Moana doll is available on-line and in all good toy shops.




Voices of  Auli'i Cravalho, Dwayne Johnson, Rachel House, Temuera Morrison, Jemaine Clement, Nicole Scherzinger, Louise Bush, Alan Tudyk.


Dir Ron Clements and John Musker, Pro Osnat Shurer, Ex Pro John Lasseter, Screenplay Jared Bush, from a story by Ron Clements, John Musker, Chris Williams, Don Hall, Pamela Ribon, Aaron Kandell and Jordan Kandell, Pro Des Ian Gooding, Ed Jeff Draheim, Music Mark Mancina.


Walt Disney Pictures/Walt Disney Animation Studios-Walt Disney.

113 mins. USA. 2016. Rel: 2 December 2016. Cert. PG.