‘Try Everything’ was so last movie.
The first half hour of this film is excellent. The exposition isn’t too bad, and the character setup and conflict is explained well. It is when Moana goes on her journey that the plot gets shakier. The coconut pirates are a bizarre turn, seeming to emulate the Minions of Despicable Me fame (as well as the recently released Mad Max: Fury Road), and the Realm of Monsters could have been explored more. There’s also a throwback to a 90’s Disney Villain that works well but doesn’t quite sell it fully. The end of the film and some of the tropes throughout can be predictable. Most of the plot feels like a checklist, ticking off obstacles until the end. Get the boat, meet the guy, get the thing for the guy, stop the monsters, save the day. On paper, it sounds formulaic, and on screen, well, it is. This would have been a great video game, and a pretty good movie, if it weren’t for the emotional payoff…
This film is incredibly relatable, especially this year: the relative boring safety of home versus the fun, adventurous (and dangerous) outside world is an idea that most people can connect with very well. Moana also tugs at the heartstrings, having a strong message of finding your true worth versus what others tell you, learning and practicing new skills, and that shaking up daily routine can be a good thing. The emotional core and connection to the grandmother is beautiful, and some foreshadowing in the beginning pays off at different parts of the film. The climax is one of Disney’s best, showing that every Disney film doesn’t need to end in a huge battle to be great.
My PLOT RATING is 8 / 10.
Moana (Auli’i Cravalho) is a great lead, and one of the best Disney Princesses. We see her struggles with her family and finding her calling. She wants to prove herself to them, but her true struggle is proving this to herself. She has a lot of humorous moments and good comedic timing. Most of these are her earnest attempts at being dramatic backfiring, and she does mellow over the course of the film. As a proactive Princess, she takes all challenges head-on. It’s cool to see her preparation, and how trial-and-error works for her. Her best asset is her emotional connection to others, which plays a big part in the climax.
Moana’s Parents (Chief Tui – Temuera Morrison, Nicole Scherzinger – Sina) and Grandmother (Gramma Tala – Rachel House) are the diametrically opposed parental figures. While her parents want Moana to stay on the island, Gramma Tala wants her to go out and explore. They both have differing ideals of what makes a good life, and this connects to current events (strangely enough): stay safe inside, or explore the dangerous outside.
Maui is a good character, but he is held back by being both a serious character and a comedic relief. Initially, he is serious, then funny for the most part of the film, then serious again. It works in places, but it’s jarring. His backstory sets him up as selfish, but his motivation is then revealed later on, and makes him more of a human character.
Tamatoa (Jemaine Clement) has a pretty good bit part here. He’s essentially a homage to the classic Disney Villain in a film that really doesn’t need one. He is more of an obstacle than a character, and doesn’t really make that much of an impact. I initially liked him as he was an interesting character (the Tim Curry-style voice that Clement puts on, as well as the David Bowie-inspired song has won many over) but now he is just okay. He would have been better if he was the main antagonist, as he seems to be a dark reflection of Maui’s inflated ego.
Te Kā and Te Fiti (unvoiced) are two interesting character concepts that show off mime acting and impressive CGI. They act as the last obstacle to overcome.
Other characters include:
Pua and Heihei (respectively a pig and chicken) are the animal sidekicks. While Pua (unvoiced) is sidelined early in the film, Heihei (Alan Tudyk) is in most of it, and he only has one joke: dumb, unintentional suicide attempts. It’s a really strange joke and kind of gets old with how stupid he can get.
The Kakamora (unvoiced) coconut people are a clear ripoff of the Minions, and just seem to be thrown in for an action scene. They’re fun but ultimately can be cut out of the film without consequence.
My CHARACTERS RATING is 7 / 10.
The dialogue here is a strange mix of timeless and modern. The modern jokes, lines, and quips act as speed bumps on an otherwise smooth script. All of the lines are delivered well and with appropriate conviction, and a few of them are good enough to bring tears to the eyes. When the dialogue focuses on story and drama, it’s great, but when comedy is involved, the script tries too hard sometimes. I must note though, that there were two ‘pee’ jokes that I actually laughed at and didn’t think were out of place.
My DIALOGUE RATING is 8 / 10.
Perfection. The water is beautiful and just amazing. There isn’t really much farther this animation can go. I seriously think we hit a ceiling. The environments look like reality while the characters are just cartoony enough to not be uncanny. There are also some cool blacklight effects in the Tamatoa scenes, and the lighting is just excellent throughout. There’s also several spots of 2D animation on Maui’s tattoos.
My EFFECTS RATING is 10 / 10.
Lin-Manuel Miranda is… An acquired taste. I feel like here, he is making another play with his music instead of making a Disney movie. The music here feels a lot like Disney instead of being Disney itself. The score is also great, with a lot of tribal beats, swelling orchestra, and some ukelele!
“Tulou Tagaloa” (Olivia Foa’i) – Mysterious and moving, our opening to the film before it even begins. Sets the tone very well.
“An Innocent Warrior” (Vai Mahina, Sulata Foai-Amiatu, Matthew Ineleo) – Meditative and calm, accompanied by some beautiful and cute animation.
“Where You Are” (Christopher Jackson, Rachel House, Nicole Scherzinger, Auli’i Cravalho, Louise Bush) – A catchy song that outlines the main points of the island and its people, but the background chorus drowns out some of the lines.
“How Far I’ll Go” (Auli’i Cravalho) – A nice alternative ‘I Want’ Song to “Let It Go”. Some parts of it are slow, however, and it weirdly rhymes ‘island’ with itself… Four times in a row. The chorus is catchy, and Cravalho sings the heck out of it. The reprise is also great, and better than the original.
“We Know the Way” (Lin-Manuel Miranda, Opetaia Foa’i) – One of my personal favorites, this is a great travel song (fitting the animation). Unlike what I thought of his voice in Hamilton, Miranda is the perfect voice for this. The tribal beats and the background chorus are great, and I wish it were longer.
“You’re Welcome” (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson) – Maui’s introduction not only to his personality, but his backstory and feats. Incredibly catchy and fun to sing, even though Johnson can’t. I do like his rap section in the middle, which he does well.
“Shiny” – After a ‘Villain Song Hiatus’, this is a pretty good one, but not my favorite. Villain Songs are great when the villain is established more, but we just met this giant crab, and his only trait is his ego. It’s a good song, especially during the bridge, but not great. Maybe I would like it better if I knew David Bowie’s music, but I mostly like the voice, reminding me of Tim Curry.
Logo Te Pate (Olivia Foa’i, Opetaia Foa’i, Talaga Steve Sale) – A fast-paced song during a montage. Very catchy.
I Am Moana (Song of the Ancestors) (Rachel House, Auli’i Cravalho) – A beautiful song that swells in power, going from sadness to confidence.
Know Who You Are (Auli’i Cravalho, Vai Mahina, Olivia Foa’i, Opetaia Foa’i, Matthew Ineleo) – Another beautiful song, and the best part of the film. This moment is truly a great change of pace for Disney, where it ends not in a violent bang, not in a soft whimper, but in a warm embrace.
We Know The Way (Finale) (Lin-Manuel Miranda, Opetaia Foa’i) – A great reprise that takes the best parts of the original and presents them triumphantly.
How Far I’ll Go (Alessia Cara Version) (Alessia Cara) – A more electronic-poppy version of the original. It works well, and while I like the tempo better on this, Cravalho sings it better.
You’re Welcome (Jordan Fisher/Lin-Manuel Miranda Version) (Jordan Fisher, Lin-Manuel Miranda) – A hip-hop version of the original, I wonder how the film would be if Jordan Fisher would be as Maui. Miranda also does the rap with Fisher, and they both nail it. I like listening to this version better, but it would need to be tweaked for the film proper.
My MUSIC RATING is 9 / 10.
Moana is a good mix of the best of Disney from the past years. It starts out earnest and strong, but later devolves into bad pacing and some off-kilter modern humor. The emotion is the best part of the film, both in song and plot. The message and takeaway is also one of love rather than hate, showing that giving is better than getting, and that being happy with what you have can be better than always searching for more. The effects are at their best here, showing off hair, water, fibers, and sand. All are perfect. I’m also glad that 2D is back, no matter how little featured here. The dialogue, while sometimes comedically trying too hard, does itself justice, nailing the dramatic and heartfelt moments. The characters are good, but weighed down by trying to focus on too many sometimes. The plot is also weighed down by having to constantly throw different set-pieces in, instead of focusing on more time for characters to grow.
Ultimately, it feels like Moana is trying too hard to be everything else at once instead of being its own thing.
My OVERALL RATING for Disney’s Moana is 84%.