PLOT (spoiler alert!!!):
In the beginning, there was only ocean. Then Te Fiti, an island goddess, emerged. Te Fiti’s heart, a small pounamu stone, possessed the power to create life. It was stolen by the demigod Maui, who was planning to give it to humanity as a gift. But the lava demon Te Kā confronted him, causing the heart to become lost in the ocean along with Maui’s magical fishhook.
A millennium later, Moana Waialiki, the daughter and heir of a chief on the small Polynesian island of Motunui, is chosen by the ocean to receive the heart as she is collecting shells on the shore. Her father, Chief Tui, insists the island provides everything the villagers might need, but when fish become scarce, coconuts begin to spoil, and the island’s vegetation begins to die, Moana proposes going beyond the reef to find more fish. Tui angrily rejects her request, as sailing beyond the reef is forbidden. Moana’s mother Sina confesses Tui fears the ocean because he lost his best friend when he attempted to sail beyond the reef.
Moana’s grandmother Tala finds Moana on the beach after a failed attempt to sail past the reef and shows Moana a secret cave hidden behind a waterfall. Inside is a fleet of outrigger sailing canoes, revealing that the island’s ancestors were seafaring voyagers. Tala gives Moana the heart of Te Fiti, which she has kept safe for her granddaughter ever since she was chosen by the ocean, and shows her that the darkness unleashed by Maui’s theft is now consuming the island.
Tala suddenly falls ill and with her dying breaths tells Moana to set sail. Moana departs to find Maui with her pet rooster Heihei, who has accidentally stowed away on the sailboat. A manta ray, implied to be Tala’s reincarnation, follows Moana. Moana follows a constellation that looks like Maui’s fishhook, but a huge wave caused by a typhoon flips her sailboat and knocks her unconscious. She wakes up the next morning on a small island inhabited by Maui, who distracts Moana by boasting of his exploits, traps her in a cave and steals her sailboat. After escaping the cave, Moana tries to convince Maui to return the heart, but Maui refuses, fearing other dark creatures will be attracted to its power.
Pygmy pirates called Kakamora surround the boat and manage to steal the heart, but Maui is able to get their massive sailboats to collide just as Moana retrieves the heart. Maui agrees to help bring the heart back to Te Fiti, but in order to do so, he needs his hook, which is hidden in Lalotai, the Realm of Monsters and held by a giant coconut crab named Tamatoa. The two journey to Lalotai, where they manage to retrieve the hook by tricking Tamatoa into singing of his glamour. Back on the sailboat, Maui teaches Moana how to sail and to navigate by the stars and, with Moana’s encouragement, reacquaints himself with the transformational powers of his magical hook. Moana learns that Maui was a human raised by gods after being abandoned by his parents.
They arrive at Te Fiti, where Te Kā appears and tries to destroy them. Maui tries to fight back, but Te Kā is too strong and he tells Moana to turn back. She ignores him, believing that they can use Te Kā’s aversion to water to their advantage, and Te Kā severely damages Maui’s hook and repels their boat out to sea. Maui leaves Moana stranded, fearing that going back to fight Te Kā will permanently destroy his hook. He tells her that the ocean chose the wrong person to save her people.
Moana, distraught at her failure, begs the ocean to take the heart and choose another person to return it to Te Fiti. The spirit of Tala appears and encourages Moana to find her true calling within herself. Moana swims down to retrieve the heart and returns to Te Fiti to return the heart. She is nearly killed by Te Kā, but Maui, having had a change of heart, returns to distract the lava demon, though his hook is destroyed in the battle. Moana, reaching the top of the mountain, realizes that the island is gone and that Te Kā is actually Te Fiti without her heart. Moana asks the ocean to clear a path so Te Kā can approach her. Moana sings a song to Te Kā to calm her and remembering what she truly was she is able to restore her heart and Te Fiti returns. In gratitude, Te Fiti gifts Moana a new canoe and Maui (who apologizes to her for stealing her heart a long time ago) a new hook before slumbering at peace. Maui and Moana bid each other a fond farewell.
Moana returns to her island and later sets sail with the rest of the villagers in search of new islands as Maui accompanies them in his hawk form.
In a post-credits scene, Tamatoa, who has been stranded on his back during Moana and Maui’s escape, wonders if people would care more for him if he was a Jamaican crab named Sebastian.
Disney heads to the Polynesian islands for Moana, a film that has been controversial ever since the first teaser trailer was released. You know what they say, though, sometimes controversy is the best thing for a film, as it turns into publicity. Question is, though, how is the film, despite people complaining about this, that, and everything else?
What is this about?
Moana Waialiki is a sea voyaging enthusiast and the only daughter of a chief in a long line of navigators. When her island’s fisherman can’t catch any fish and the crops fail, she learns that the demigod Maui caused the blight by stealing the heart of the goddess Te Fiti. The only way to heal the island is to persuade Maui to return Te Fiti’s heart, so Moana sets off on an epic journey across the Pacific. The film is based on stories from Polynesian mythology.
What did I like?
Can you smell….what Maui is hooking? Dwayne Johnson, better known to some of us as “The Rock”, lends his voice, charm, charisma…and ego to Maui, the demigod. Johnson has been pretty busy the past few years with his exploding movie career and all. I think the last time he did a voice for a feature length animated movie was Planet 51, and that didn’t work out so well for him. Maui seems to have all the qualities that made The Rock likable (or hateable), but he even does the “People’s eyebrow”. I feel I should also mention his tattoo which, like the ocean is a character all its own, much in the same way the magic carpet is in Aladdin.
Music. Compared to Frozen, I think the songs are less catchy, with a couple of exceptions. That being said, the heavy use of percussion really drives the music and captures the audience’s ear. Not to mention it is also a good way to honor and respect the islands for which this film is set. I do guarantee, though, that there is one song, which is pretty early on that you will be singing for days. As a matter of fact, I think I’m going to download the soundtrack to my Spotify player as soon as I finish this review
Pre-show. Two things. First off, baby Moana is cute as a button! Second, the short before the film, which seemed like a failed attempt at mixing Up and Inside Out at first, turned out to be pretty solid. Why did I mention Up? Well, all the guys in the office have the same head as the old man. It was a nice lead in to this film, though some would say this short and the one in front of Inside Out could have been switched, due to subject matter and the films they were preceding.
What didn’t I like?
Animal encounters. Early on, when Moana meets Maui, he calls her “princess” and says she has an animal sidekick. The audience got a chuckle out of that, and why not? It is true, with the exception of Tiana, who was turned into a frog, and the actual animal princesses; Nala, Maid Marian, etc. So what is my issue? Well, these animals, specifically the chicken, aren’t useful or funny. it is just there. Hell, that giant crab that thinks its David Bowie and seems to be jealous of Sebastian would’ve made a better sidekick!
Daddy issues. There is a little incontinuity with Moana’s dad that I picked up on. In the whole first part of the film he foaming at the mouth with anger trying to keep her from going out past the reef. In some scenes, it seems like he doesn’t even want her to go near the water! At the film’s end, when she comes back, he doesn’t seem to give a damn. I understand people can change, and that’s well and good, but this was an about face that leaves me scratching my head.
Danger! Maui says that the Heart of Te Fiti will bring out all sorts of danger. Well, the only danger that came after them were the Kakamora and then when they had to face Te Ka. The rest fo the time, they were too busy fighting amongst themselves or diving into the realm of Monsters after Maui’s hook to deal with any dangers. Still, it would have been nice to get some more perils, even if was the return of the Kakamora.
Final thoughts on Moana? Disney has outdone themselves with this one. Not only did they make a film with a great story, but this is one of those rare films that isn’t necessarily aimed at the girls or boys, though you make arguments for and against for both. I do have a few small issues with the film, but they are really just small nitpicky stuff. The animation in this flick is gorgeous. I know we all can’t live in the Polynesian islands, but it does make one want to at least drive to the beach…maybe when it isn’t 43 degrees outside! Do I recommend this? Yes, very highly! Moana is sure to bring a smile to your face and joy to your heart!
4 3/4 out of 5 stars