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Movie Review: Moana (2016)

Disney's Moana - Moana and Maui

There is a new Disney princess movie in town: Moana. With its heart-swelling music, mind-blowing visuals, and engaging story, Moana is the best Disney film since Frozen. In some ways, Moana is even better than Frozen.

The movie follows a young girl named Moana (voiced by teenaged newcomer Auli’i Cravalho) who is mysteriously drawn to the forbidden ocean that surrounds the island where she lives. After we get to know Moana and her family, the movie takes off with the soul-stirring ballad, “How Far I’ll Go." The tingling feeling deep in my heart that I got when I first heard this song was the same one I felt the first time I listened to Elsa (Idina Menzel) belt out "Let it Go" as she climbed that snow-covered mountain in Disney's Frozen. The pop version of “How Far I’ll Go” was released a few weeks before the movie, and it is excellent, but I predict that audiences will be clamoring for the soundtrack version sung by Cravalho, especially after they hear it while completely mesmerized by the breathtaking images of Moana on the big screen.

Pop version of "How Far I'll Go" sung by Alessia Cara
There are two stars of this movie: Moana and Maui. Cravalho deftly brings Moana to life as a strong, passionate, and compassionate young woman. I was surprised to find myself also engaged by the character of Maui (Dwayne Johnson). Footage of Maui in one of the clips released before the movie, with his animated tattoos, felt a bit silly to me, but in the context of the movie, the character of Maui works. I suppose it’s because the movie isn’t entirely set in reality. Moana is a real girl, but once she steps out into the ocean, she enters a world of fantasy. Disbelief must be suspended here, and I had no problem doing so once the film had drawn me in.
Disney's Moana - sailing away
The story of Moana doesn't feature any romance at all. That's not to say that there isn’t love. There is the strong love of Gramma Tala (Rachel House) for her granddaughter. And, as the tale plays out, moviegoers witness the formation of a powerful friendship. But there is no happily-ever-after kiss at the end. Although I generally prefer movies with at least a touch of romance, I didn’t miss it here.

As I watched Moana, there were times when I nearly forgot it was an animated movie. Instead, I felt like I was enjoying an elaborately-produced Broadway musical. While the music (by Mark Mancina, Opetaia Foa’i, and Hamilton’s Lin-Manuel Miranda) is a tremendous part of what makes the movie so special, that’s not all Moana has to offer. Although there are no jaw-dropping twists or surprising turns, the story is compelling, and it elegantly pulls at the heartstrings.

Moana is one of the most memorable movies I've ever seen, animated or otherwise. It has joined the ranks as one of my favorite films of all time. Do not miss seeing Moana in theaters, on the biggest screen you can find!
Disney's Moana - Moana 
Jen's grade:
Absolutely go see it! 

opens in theaters November 23, 2016.

Moana is rated PG.

Jen (California, USA)*
* Jen attended a complimentary screening of Moana