In 2014, Irish film studio Cartoon Saloon released the animated movie Song of the Sea by director Tomm Moore. The movie was at once a universally accessible children’s story and at the same time a complete celebration of Irish identity. The film used images from Irish mythology to evoke a sense of magic and wonder. Figures such as giants, bardic wizards, and shape-shifting selkies abounded. In telling a simple children’s tale, Song of the Sea managed to capture something basic and fundamental about the spirit of Ireland.
Today, in 2016, Disney animation has done for Polynesian culture what Song of the Sea did for the Irish. It’s a gorgeous no-holds-barred celebration of the myths and spirit of the Samoan world that manages to be, on one hand, wholly unique while, at the same time, remaining completely accessible. Based on an original screenplay by Maori actor/director Taika Waititi, Moana revels in its depictions of the demi-god Maui, the goddess Te Feti, a sentient ocean, and the fearsome Lava Monster.
Moana tells the tale of an island tribe fallen upon hard times. After generations of happy and peaceful living, the coconut trees have started to produce rancid coconuts and the fish have disappeared from the fishermen’s catches. The tribal princess Moana suggests exploring out beyond the reef that surrounds their island, in order to look for fresh catches of fish. However her father, Chief Tui, forbids it as doing so would break an ancient taboo. Unswayed by her father’s words, Moana ventures out on her own in a quest to save her people.
Moana is a thoroughly delightful and engaging piece of filmmaking. It captures a sense of youthful wonder and exuberance as we follow the main character on her magical journey. The movie is filled with humor and adventure, and is gorgeously rendered to make its audience long to be swimming in a tropical ocean or lying in a boat at night staring at a star filled sky. It’s a film that celebrates life and celebrates nature, while telling an action filled tale full of thrills and suspense. If I have one complaint it’s that it does somewhat follow the Disney tendency, towards the end, of swelling the music to the Nth degree and beating you over the head with how it wants you to feel. This complaint is minor, though; as the story itself is meant to be somewhat larger than life so a somewhat overdone score is not entirely out of place.
All in all I would highly recommend this movie. It’s joyful, vivacious, and is the rare film that you walk out of feeling your spirits have been lifted and refreshed.
4.5 out of 5 stars
Three thousand years ago, the greatest sailors in the world voyaged across the vast Pacific, discovering the many islands of Oceania. But then, for a millennium, their voyages stopped – and no one knows exactly why. From Walt Disney Animation Studios comes “Moana,” a sweeping, CG-animated feature film about an adventurous teenager who sails out on a daring mission to save her people. During her journey, Moana (voice of Auli‘i Cravalho) meets the mighty demigod Maui (voice of Dwayne Johnson), who guides her in her quest to become a master wayfinder. Together, they sail across the open ocean on an action-packed voyage, encountering enormous monsters and impossible odds, and along the way, Moana fulfills the ancient quest of her ancestors and discovers the one thing she’s always sought: her own identity.
Voice Cast: Auli‘i Cravalho, Dwayne Johnson, Jemaine Clement, Rachel House, Temuera Morrison, Nicole Scherzinger, Alan Tudyk.
Directors: Ron Clements, John Musker
Producer: Osnat Shurer