Disney’s animation department had nothing short of an extraordinary year for 2016. For starters, “Zootopia” was a smash hit, grossing over $1 billion worldwide and dominating the awards circuit (which was topped off with the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature). Adding to their Oscar fortunes was the fact that the Disney/Pixar short “Piper” claimed the award for Best Animated Short. Then there was “Moana,” a two-time Academy Award nominee (Best Animated Feature and Best Original Song), which, while not claiming either of its awards, still managed great critical and box office success ($580 million worldwide).
The film tells the story of a young girl named Moana (Voice of Auli’i Cravalho), who is destined to become the new chief of the island of Motunui after her father (Voice of Temuera Morrison). Moana is very adventurous, always wanting to sail out beyond the reef, an area her father forbids her to go for her own safety. However, she soon learns from her grandmother (Voice of Rachel House) that her people used to be voyagers and that the Ocean itself has chosen her to help set right a wrong that was committed 1,000 years ago. Apparently a demigod by the name of Maui (Voice of Dwayne Johnson) had stolen a powerful stone from the goddess Te Fiti in order to give it to humanity, but things didn’t go according to plan as the removal of the jewel brought about a darkness that is spreading. Now Moana must find Maui and help return the stone to its rightful place, or else the coming darkness could very well mean the end of her people.
Right off the bat, you can probably tell that, in the standard Disney tradition, the film is a little formulaic. Alright, it would be fair to say that it’s VERY formulaic, but surprisingly that little fact doesn’t do much harm when it comes to Disney productions that are done this well. You may be able to tell where the story is going practically every step of the way, but Jared Bush’s screenplay deftly mixes in a number of intriguing characters and themes that enrich what would otherwise be your standard tale of a young hero going on a big adventure to save their family/friends/the world, etc.
Moana is a very persistent young girl (skillfully voiced by newcomer Auli’i Cravalho), who faces her destiny with everything she’s got. After all, her sense of adventure is something she’s been struggling with ever since she was a little girl, so when she finally gets the chance to go beyond the reef and see what’s out there in the big, wide ocean, she jumps at the chance, especially when it means saving her people and setting the world right. Her main companion for the trip is Maui (featuring an excellent vocal performance from Dwayne Johnson), a headstrong, arrogant demigod, who at first wants nothing to do with the mission, but eventually comes around to helping correct his mistake from a millennium ago. These two paired together make for an odd couple to say the least, but they’re one of the film’s main driving elements that keep it going strong.
Sprinkled throughout this grand adventure are a few spectacular songs (co-written by Lin-Manuel Miranda of “Hamilton” fame), including the Oscar-nominated “How Far I’ll Go.” However, at least in this critic’s opinion, the best song of the lot has to go to the incredibly catchy “You’re Welcome,” performed by Dwayne Johnson. In fact, the only song in the entire production that wasn’t quite up to par was a little number called “Shiny,” sung by Jermaine Clement, who voices a giant crab that our heroes encounter when they enter the “Realm of Monsters.” Other than that, the score and songs are fantastic, giving the film another boost from its familiar narrative.
Overall, I don’t think you could really say that “Moana” is a particularly memorable animated outing, but it is a rather enjoyable one. The music, characters, and vocal performances all go a long way towards making this a fun adventure that’ll keep you engaged with its heroes the whole way, and despite it being perhaps a little too long for a film of its type (which puts a little stress on the pacing), it always manages to bounce back rather quickly whenever it goes astray. When you factor in the same gorgeous animation that we’ve come to expect from Disney, there ends up being more than enough here to recommend it, making it another fine addition to the studio’s continually-growing library of animated films.
“Moana” comes to Blu-ray in a 2.39:1, 1080p High Definition transfer of excellent quality. As usual, Disney has given us an absolutely gorgeous release in which every single frame of the presentation is crystal clear, which in turn does a great job of showing off the beautiful animation. Likewise, the 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio is outstanding, giving you all of the dialogue, sound effects, and perhaps most importantly, the incredible soundtrack in marvelous quality. Overall, the treatment here couldn’t possibly have been better and is sure to please each and every Disney fan out there.
Audio Commentary: A commentary track in which co-directors John Musker and Ron Clements give you tons of fascinating background information on the film.
Voice of the Islands (31 Minutes): A featurette about the filmmakers’ visit to the Pacific Islands.
Things You Didn’t Know About… (4 Minutes): A series of rapid-fire questions given to the cast and crew of the film.
Island Fashion (5 Minutes): A featurette that takes a look at the costume design for the film.
The Elements of… (14 Minutes): A featurette that covers the animation of certain elements, including Mini-Maui, The Ocean, and Te Ka (The Lava Monster).
They Know the Way: Making the Music of Moana (13 Minutes): A wonderful featurette that explores the film’s outstanding music, featuring interviews with the composers.
Warrior Face (4 Minutes): A so-so song that didn’t make the final cut of the film.
Fishing for Easter Eggs (3 Minutes): A featurette in which the stars divulge the film’s hidden Easter eggs.
Deleted Scenes (26 Minutes): A collection of eight deleted sequences from alternate versions of the film, featuring introductions by the co-directors.
Inner Workings (6 Minutes): A bizarre short film about the inner workings of the human body.
Gone Fishing (2 Minutes): A short film featuring Moana and Maui.
How Far I’ll Go Music Video
How Far I’ll Go Around the World (in Various Languages)
Though it may not be one of Disney’s most memorable efforts, “Moana” is lifted up by its gorgeous animation, engaging characters, and excellent music, making it a worthy addition to the studio’s extensive animated collection. Sure, its narrative is a little overly-familiar (young hero going on a big quest), but when a film is able to overcome something that could easily hold it back like that, then it’s definitely worth giving it a look at least once.