If you know me well enough you would know that I’m very critical of animated films. I think a lot of them miss the mark and can only remain interesting for children. A good animated feature is inclusive of a widespread audience and can remain smart and engaging will offering fun and crafty animation. Moana is not something I was looking forward to, as on paper it didn’t look like it was going to leave much of an impression on me. It’s safe to say that I’m surprised that this film was honestly pretty good.
The first thing that I think deserves praise is the music. Nearly every song is excellent, catchy, and just so full of life. It’s hard not to sing along to the music. This isn’t exactly something I can say for a lot of animated films. The more technical aspect of the film is great. The colors are very vibrant and the animation is vivid and expansive (just like the vast ocean the heroes sail). Some of the action is eye-popping and very striking, especially the battle with the lava demon, Te Ka. Auli’i Cravalho is a relative newcomer who does a very good job of bringing Moana to life. She will probably have many more voice acting roles in the future.
I also think the film is a good look into a culture that many people won’t be familiar with. I’ve noticed that Disney is really trying to focus on some minority groups in the past few years and this is perfectly good for fresh inspiration. In the case of Moana, this provided for an interesting and unfamiliar setting and story, which adds to the films overall appeal. I’m well aware of the cultural criticisms this film received for the portrayal of Maui and the lack of heroine goddesses. However, its good to leave some criticisms at the door. If you look hard enough a criticism can be found for anything and its unnecessary for a film that means well.
The film has its typical Disney cliches. You have the “chosen” hero who is unsure of themselves. You have the relationship with a buddy that is at first strained but then leads to the characters liking each other. There is a falling out and reunion with the hero discovering their ability. The film treads familiar Disney ground. Its not a terrible thing and kids won’t really give a damn about it. Its not a flawless film, at its core its a familiar formula but I think the cultural aspect and imaginative visuals put a good balance.
I think Kubo and the Two Strings was far and away the best animated film of the year and proved why Laika are ahead of the curve. I’d say Moana is better than some of its animated counterparts in the year, such as Zootopia and Finding Dory. I still long for the days of 90s Disney films but this effort shows that they are still trying at least. If for nothing else, sit back and enjoy the excellent music and visuals in the film.