Welcome back gentlemen; thus the first thought that came to mind upon seeing a grand achievement that is Walt Disney Studios’ latest outing Moana. The gentlemen in question are of course Ron Clements and John Musker, the acclaimed directorial team behind such Disney classics as The Little Mermaid and Aladdin who now return after a seven-year absence with Moana; it’s not solely one of the best and most beautiful animated films of the year but a testimony to the hard work of all those involved in its production. Assembled together they have made a visually and emotionally beautiful work of art.
For Moana, the young daughter of an island chief, the allure of exploring the ocean is a constant source of wonder; yet faced with pressures to fulfill her duties at home and a call to venture out beyond the island’s shores this young teen must make a choice that will determine the future of her people. When she teams up with the legendary demigod Maui on a perilous mission to return a precious mythical stone she learns that the strength of a God resides within us all; with a little heart, conviction, and bravery we can all face the challenges ahead and shape our own futures.
There’s no question that at this point the output of the Disney studio will result in a successful venture at the box office yet just when we think the Disney canon can’t be made any stronger films like “Moana” appear. A work in progress for the last five years (Clements and Musker even traveled to various Polynesian nations to research and consult cultural historians on the region’s mythology) “Moana” is a charming and delightful tribute to the beauty of the ocean, family, courage, and love. The CG animation is gorgeous especially in its depiction of the water and the faces of the South Pacific people; for the directors it marks their first time working with computer animation (indeed they were behind the studios last traditionally animated movie ‘The Princess and The Frog’ in 2009) yet they seem to have not lost a step. As with their earlier work we have a colorful (figuratively and literally) cast of characters, an inspiring and family-friendly narrative, and a great musical backdrop. While the abandonment of traditional animation remains a dreadful reality, it is so welcome to see Clements and Musker brought back into the fold to create cinematic art for a new generation.
But besides its wonderful animation, Moana is a winner because of so many winning elements. It features a great song-score co-written by Lin-Manuel Miranda that should hopefully give many of us a reprieve from the ubiquitous Frozen musical barrage, and fine voice acting turns particularly from newcomer Auli’i Cravalho and the ever-versatile Dwayne Johnson. In her first film role Cravalho is assertive and natural, keep an eye out for her as she explores the opportunities that will come her way; Johnson once again shows his acting chops not only being genuinely funny but by providing his own singing voice for Maui’s song. Ultimately, however, it’s the message behind “Moana” that combined with the animation, music and voice talent make it soar. Be not afraid to choose your path, stand up for what you love, and be true to yourself.
There’s been a great number of animated works this year but for the team behind “Moana”, it will be rewarding to know that amongst so many well-made films, their film stands as perhaps the top of them all. It’s a rewarding experience for everyone and whether you’re looking for beautiful animation, great music, a heartwarming story, or just a few laughs “Moana” has them all. Welcome back Mr. Clements and Musker, in 2016 what a joy it is to see that the magic of Aladdin’s lamp has not worn off on you!