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Moana (2016)

Dwayne Johnson headlines a Disney movie that focuses on Polynesian mythology, introduces Auli’i Cravalho and features music my Lin-Manuel Miranda.


Moana (Auli’i Cravalho) is the daughter of an island chief. Since she was young, she has been drawn to the ocean, but her father constantly reminds her that no one is allowed to leave the island. For most of her life, Moana submits to her father’s orders and focuses on being the island’s next chief.

Gramma Tala (Rachel House), has often told Moana the story of the Demi-god Maui (Dwayne Johnson). The story goes that Maui stole the heart of the island goddess Te Fiti. The heart has the power to create life but, without it, Te Fiti has fallen dormant and a dark sickness has started to flow from island to island. When, the island’s resources start to disappear, Moana realizes that Gramma Tala’s story is real. She also discovers that her tribe used to by voyagers that would settle and cultivate new islands. When her grandmother dies, she tells Moana to set out on a journey to find Maui and have him return the heart to Te Fiti.

Fortunately, the ocean (yes, the ocean is a sentient character in this movie) has entrusted Moana with the lost heart of Te Fiti. With the ocean’s help she’s able to find Maui, who has been stranded for years alone without his magic hook. Maui is also very self-centered and concerned more about getting off the island and getting his powers back than he is with helping Moana. Moana is slowly able to convince him to accompany her by appealing to his desire to be viewed as a hero. As time goes on, the two form a friendship that helps further motivate Maui to help the heroic girl fulfill her mission. Together Maui, Moana and her pet chicken HeiHei (Alan Tudyk) face off against Kakamora pirates; the giant crab, Tamatoa (Jemaine Clement); and the volcanic giant Te Ka in order to return Te Fiti’s heart and restore nature.

Other Stuff

  • Moana’s mother and father are voiced by Temuera Morrison and Nicole Sherzinger, respectively.
  • The film’s directors assembled an “Oceanic Story Trust” in order to advise them on cultural aspects of the movie. Despite some critic’s complaints about certain aspects of Polynesian portrayal in the movie, the Trust did succeed in changing parts of the movie. Two examples are the removal of a scene where Moana throws a temper-tantrum using coconuts (which have been used in creating Polynesian caricatures in the past) and some updates (namely hair) to Maui’s design.
  • Maui attacks the “Disney Princess” argument head on during the movie. He first refers to Moana as a princess when he meets her. She rejects the label, saying that she’s just the daughter of a chief. Maui responds by telling her that it’s close enough and that having a dress and an animal sidekick definitely makes her a princess.
  • The Kakamora pirates are basically little coconut toys that run around the ocean like a crew out of the new Mad Max: Fury Road movie.
  • Maui’s body is covered with living tattoos. The most notable is a little mini-Maui that actually acts as his Jiminy Cricket-like conscience.
  • Heihei has a tendency to keep falling off of the boat while they’re sailing and the ocean keeps rescuing him. One of the best scenes in the movie is when the ocean has just had enough of Heihei’s schtick and tries to make sure he doesn’t fall of the boat again.
  • The movie is full of Easter eggs, including references to Frozen, The Little Mermaid, and Wreck-It Ralph.

What did I think?

Overall, Disney’s Moana is everything that you’d expect from a Disney movie: a fun, uplifting story, memorable music, charming animal sidekicks, and turning a classic story or mythology into something that’s easy for a general audience to consume. Sure, they end up whitewashing some of the story, but it’s also obvious that they tried to preserve some elements of authenticity and to make it as unoffensive as possible.

The story itself is very uplifting and hopeful. Auli’i Cravalho’s performance is particularly good and really accented by the way the animators keyed in on the expressive facial animations. I’m not sure what the process was for creating the musical scenes, but they all have some kind of interesting animation in them. Moana’s face in “How Far I’ll go” has full expression, complete with quivering jaw line. Tomatoa’s featured song breaks into a full rave style look with luminescent chemicals lighting up his lair. Maui’s featured song also takes an interesting surrealist dip into 2D animation. They’re all things that could’ve seemed very out of place, given the overall look of the movie, but they actually seemed to fit in very well.

The music for the movie is also great, but it leaves something to be desired in the “sing-along” department. There’s really only a handful of stand-alone songs in the movie. There’s “You’re Welcome” sung by Maui, “Shiny” sung by Tomatoa. The other music, like “Where you Are” and “How Far I’ll Go”, feels more like sung dialogue or exposition than a song that could exist outside the context of the movie. That doesn’t mean that the songs are bad, quite the opposite. I thought this movie did a great job of interconnecting it’s score and musical performances into something that helped to accentuate the story that was being told. That probably means that we wont’ hear as many covers of Moana songs, but they’re still great in the movie.

I think this movie may be one of the most thoroughly feel good Disney movies that I’ve seen in a while. It doesn’t have some of the “epic” moments or songs that movies like Frozen did, but it fits together better as a collective. I loved how some of the side characters like Heihei and the ocean worked together even though I thought they would initially be annoying. The story is also pretty good about representing a lot of positive values from it’s heroine without being preachy about it. It’s probably a slightly above average movie for adults, but a great movie for kids.

Moana (2016)

Moana (2016)

Story / Plot






        Music / Audio





            • This movie has a unique look, but it looks amazing.
            • The music in this movie is a lot of fun
            • Much more of an epic tale than I was expecting
            • Features a minority female in the lead without being preachy or full of itself over it.


            • The humor was a bit of a miss for me, with a lot of it feeling like
            • Might not be the most accurate representation of polynesian culture, but it is a Disney movie