When people think of Disney animation they instantly ready their glances in the direction of Pixar, the studio that instantly strikes a chord when it comes to anything involving toys that come alive, talking cars, forgettable fish and beyond. While that may be the wise choice, it pays to remember that such an entity as Disney’s own Animation Studios are hardly a far cry from the pinnacle of this genre, especially when you take into consideration their latest effort, the simply breathtaking and mesmerising Moana.
Presenting a refreshing new take for a Disney animation, Moana follows the title character (voiced by the exquisite Auli’i Cravalho) whose residence on a Polynesian island as the daughter of the mighty Chief Tui (Temeura Morrison) means that she is about to be thrust into a position of power. For Moana though, the lure of the ocean and what is beyond the reef is much more appealing and, fuelled by the tale of the demi-god Maui (Dwayne Johnson), she escapes her island life for an adventure like no other.
Disney have plied their trade in animation for so many years by bringing to life utterly captivating and awe-inspiring feature movies like no others, and their latest is undoubtedly no different – in fact, it may be their most diverse and beautiful for quite some time. Moana immediately strikes a chord with its theme of a community in which we’ve rarely been a part of in feature films: that of a Polynesian tribe, where community and togetherness is everything. It’s a wonderful introduction to family and bonding, while also presenting the idea of a wider world beyond these walls where danger and adventure come hand-in-hand.
In lead protagonist Moana we have a wonderful character to spend our time with; she’s curious, respectable of her family’s legacy, yet always looking to the ocean at the world far beyond the sandy shores that she has longed to tread past since she was extremely young. The character’s evolution is a joy to behold, aided by her ageing grandma (Rachel House) into taking the giant step in escaping for a life on the sumptuous oceans lit by the light of a mission very few individuals would dare to pursue. Such character development is only possible with beautiful visuals – which we’ll come to in a moment – but also through a performance that shines brighter than any star we witness in that mass sky of beauty we are often looking to within the film.
Auli’i Cravalho is an absolute dream, rendering Moana’s character with a high range of emotions that instantly connect with the audience, but also providing some truly hair-raising moments with her undeniable singing voice. Trust us when we say that certain songs that emanate from Moana will be stuck in your head for weeks! Lin-Manuel Miranda seems to be having that effect these days…
Even when a performer such as Dwayne Johnson, dominating and passionate like his character Maui, appears on the scene even he cannot steal the show away from this fantastic young talent. Their partnership simmers with the utmost brilliance and only helps to steer this movie to the most exciting of depths.
Then there’s the visuals, which are arguably among the very best you’ll ever witness from any Disney film for a long time – and that certainly is no exaggeration. Here we have a movie that uses it environments to create truly inspiring moments of splendour, from star-lit skies, the sheer look of realism from the ocean depths, and in moments of fantastical wonderment. Moana somehow makes the art of animation glow in the brightest of colours and leaves you as a viewer wondering just how can such a film look so realistic; something that in this day and age is mightily impressive to say the least. Particular moments involving a larger-than-life crab and a transformation from evil to good look sublime and will be matched by few other animation films in the coming months, maybe years.
Packed with humour, love, culture and beauty, Moana is a treat to behold with its tenderness and wholly entertaining as we join a journey like no other from a tropical landscape to the magical realms of the ocean. Driven by a smart and captivating lead performance, this is a Disney animation that should be embraced by everyone and could well be the surprise hit of 2016. Few animations feel as though they are filled with such love as Moana and we share that sentiment in Disney’s presentation of this sure-fire hit.
Moana is released in UK cinemas on 2nd December.