Moana: Film Review
Cast: Auli'i Cravalho, Rachel House, Dwayne Johnson, Jemaine Clement, Temuera Morrison
Director: Ron Clements, Don Hall
There's something definitively empowering about Disney's latest, Moana.
Not only does its trip into Polynesian culture and beliefs navigate sensitively through potentially choppy waters, but it's head strong independent heroine is likely to appeal to many.
It's highly likely that Disney's found a new entrant into its pantheon of endless classics, with this tale of Moana, a princess whose heart belongs to the sea but whose father wants to keep her on shore.
With songs from Hamilton's Lin-Manuel Miranda, the show-stopping tunes are in full effect early on as the paean to the Polynesian traveller plays out.
When Moana's desire to take to the seas to save her land from being overtaken by an ecological disaster sees her ignore her father's bidding, she sets off an adventure that any young girl will be excited to see play out - and any audience seeking a feel-good family film will utterly adore.
When she learns that the demi-god Maui (played with warmth, laddishness and goofiness by Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson) stole the Heart of Te Fiti, she pledges to recruit him and restore the heart to its rightful owner.
But Maui's got other more selfish ideas - he wants simply to be reunited with his fish hook and wants nothing to do with Moana's quest...
There's an Odd Couple bickering vibe that is at the heart of Moana and Maui's relationship and despite its banter, there's nothing but good nature from start to finish with this. Negotiating the mysticism of the Polynesian ancestors with ease and relative sensitivity, the spiritual edges of Moana are largely confined to the sidelines as the slap-about storyline progresses.
From a Mad Max-esque attack by some coconut pirates to the Jiminy Cricket / Greek vase painting vibes of Maui's talking tattoos and conscience via the Abyss-like tendrils of the sea that guide Moana, there's a lot of cinematic history swathed in the proceedings.
By the time Maui appears in the story, some 35 minutes in, a new Disney heroine has already been entrenched in the narrative and thanks to a combination of Miranda's show tunes and the depth of character and animation displayed, Moana is clearly a timeless character, destined for the hearts and minds of young girls, so often deprived of a heroine to admire in Hollywood.
But here's the crux with Moana - not once is her ethnicity or her spirit defined by a male or by others' judgement. She stands alone, a virtue of pluck and heart from beginning to end - there's a distinctly female feel to the story from the start with Rachel House's grandmother leading Moana's voyage of self-discovery.
That's not to say the usual Disney trappings aren't present either.
From a clucking chicken side-kick stowaway on Moana's boat to Jemaine Clement's show-stopping turn as Tamatoa, a crustacean delivering an ode to shiny things (very reminiscent of a jazzed up version of Flight of The Conchords' Bowie's in Space) via some truly photo-realistic animation, this is a Disney film that hits on all cylinders and gets the little details right.
As we celebrate the summer months and family time, Moana's box office is guaranteed, largely due to wider themes about self-belief and the ever-important self-discovery.
Granted, these are not new themes in the animation world and while there has already been some criticisms levelled at Johnson's demi-god's portrayal as slightly buffonish, Moana's joie de vivre comes bursting from the screen in a mix of colourful animation, show-stopping tunes and a heroine to embrace.
In many ways, Moana feels like a progressive step into the future - its central heroine is diverse, has no need of male intervention or behest and isn't defined by a patriarchy or a male side-kick.
And as we head into 2017, that's something to shout about and hope it's the start of a new trend.
Ludicrously feel-good, with some belting toe-tapping musical numbers, this is one sea to surrender yourself to - Moana's enthusiasm is infectious, and it's pointless to resist.