Like many of the great Disney animated films, “Moana” tells a fun story with a strong female lead, coupled with a good message and memorable songs.
The film is built around a mythical Polynesian figure named Maui, a demigod found in the culture of numerous Pacific islands. He’s responsible for great acts like pulling up the islands out of the sea with his magical fish hook.
Here, Maui (voiced by Dwayne Johnson, one of the many cast members with ties to Pacific islands) is a cocky, brash hero who is trapped on a remote island.
Moana (newcomer Auli’i Cravalho) is that strong lead, the daughter of the chief of a small Pacific island who dreams of going out on the water, navigating the high seas, against the wishes of her dad, Chief Tui (Temuera Morrison).
As the island’s resources begin to die off, thanks to an ancient curse, Moana heads out into the deep blue sea where she and Maui have to save the world.
Along the way, they face a series of perils, including tiny pirates and a jewel-encrusted crab named Tamatoa (Jemaine Clement), who belts out the tune “Shiny” (certain to be the showstopper at the inevitable Broadway musical adaptation).
And there is certainly a Broadway pedigree here, with songs by New York’s favorite son, Lin-Manuel Miranda, and Opetaia Foa’i. “How Far I’ll Go,” sung by Cravalho, is a powerful, assertive song in the vein of “Part of Your World” or “Let It Go.” Maui’s braggart tune “You’re Welcome” best showcases Miranda’s skill of melding traditional Broadway songwriting with a spitfire hip-hop delivery.
“Moana” is directed by the duo of Ron Clements and John Musker, who have an impressive catalog of Disney hits, including “The Little Mermaid” and “Aladdin.” Their background in hand-drawn animation leads to some cool scenes that utilize both a CGI look for the characters and old-animation-style accents.
This short film played before “Moana,” which borrows a little from “Inside Out,” follows a drone that is controlled by his brain to be super safe and follow the rules, while his heart wants him to follow his dreams. It’s a charming little film, and even a little subversively funny.