The latest animated feature from Disney begins with a brief backstory about the mythical creation of the South Pacific Islands. Then we move to a lush island where happy people fish, farm and get tattoos. One resident, tweener Moana (voice of Auli’i Cravalho), is a bit gloomy; she longs to be a sailor, but her people are landlubbers. But the sea chooses her for a quest (these things happen), and soon she’s sailing with her sidekick chicken hoping to: (1) find the demi-god Maui (Dwayne Johnson); (2) sail across the sea with him; and (3) restore a sacred stone stolen from a god, thereby righting disorder in the world.
Moana, co-directed by Ron Clements and John Musker, is a standard Disney film, albeit with some self-aware trappings — meta-jokes about “princess movies”; a you-can’t-miss-it female-empowerment angle; and Johnson’s slightly snarky delivery. Moana is given plucky (traditionally male) things to do, and there is thankfully no love interest. But she is still a princess of sorts, and there are songs. If you like these Broadway-style inspirational belters, you got ’em here, including some worked on by Lin-Manuel Miranda.
The film is digitally animated (except for Maui’s animated tattoos, which are hand-drawn), and much of it is spectacular: The tropical water and the light are especially well rendered and gorgeous. Very young kids might find some aspects of the film alarming — there are some realistic scenes of ocean peril, and a fearsome-looking adversary. On a lighter note, the voice of Flight of the Conchords star Jemaine Clement makes a welcome appearance in one scene as a blinged-out crab, and it’s the film’s kookiest and most surreal set-piece. In 3-D, in select theaters