If you wear a dress & have an animal sidekick, you’re a princess.
In a movie culture where animated films aim more and more for adults, Moana may be a little jarring for any cinephile adults checking it out in hopes of an animated masterpiece. More and more, animated films strive to be at least as meaningful for adults as they are for children and in some cases, animated films are, simply put, just straight up for adults; Kubo & the Two Strings and Inside Out, for example, are just purely movies for adults, not children. Well, Moana is a movie for children. It makes a lot out of some of the more daring elements and these aren’t to be scoffed at; the respectful treatment of the culture and the surprising climax are only a couple of the things that elevate this movie above a lot of Disney adventures. But the humor is aimed substantially lower than in a lot of these movies. By the time Maui makes a joke about tweeting, you should have tumbled to the fact that the humor here isn’t going to be of the “funny for kids AND adults” variety. The movie earns no points for bringing the chicken and leaving the pig, if you know what I mean. And a lengthy section of the film involving a Smaug like, treasure hording crab is absolutely dreadful; the film winks at the cheesy elements of the Disney musical (“If you start singing, I’m going to throw up,” Maui deadpans at one point), but they want to have their cake and eat it too and Shiny, the crab song, is one of the worst songs I’ve ever heard in a musical. The rest of the songs are pretty middling too. I doubt we’ll be getting any memes about these tunes, ala Let It Go & Do You Want To Build a Snowman. This all sounds really negative, but my experience of the movie was actually pretty good. The animation is staggeringly great. My favorite character in the film was, well, it was the water; this isn’t one of those “the setting is a character” things – the water is genuinely a character in the film. The water animation was incredible and the beauty of the nature in this film was often breathtaking. And I really loved the design of the villain, Te Ka, a creature of lava & rock with a face perpetually twisted into an Edvard Munch-esque scream. And the climax is genuinely surprising and, like Kubo & the Two Strings, the movie resolves the plot with the villain in a way that doesn’t involve defeating said villain with violence, always an interesting and bold choice in today’s multiplex. It’s a good movie, not a great one. Worth seeing, but no masterpiece, Moana is more traditional than it wants to let on; but, for all the current revisionism in movies, the old tropes survive for a reason and, when paired with this glorious animation, Moana is still a good time. 3 stars.
tl;dr – Moana is more traditionally Disney than it wants to let on & has a lot of weak material, but it’s aiming for kids, not adults; the glorious animation makes up for a lot. 3 stars.