Saturday, 3 December 2016

Review: Moana

This generation of Disney films, beginning with Princess and The Frog, has been its strongest since the early 90s, but it is difficult to argue Moana as anything less than the jewel in its crown. It has some of the best Disney songs in decades, and will surely stand the test of time within that most hallowed pantheon moving forward. 

From its opening narration it's clear we are in firm hands - it evokes the opening sequence of Beauty and the Beast, filling us in on the legends which will lie at the heart of this vibrant story. 

The spirit of our heroine too is shown early on as we see Moana escape her father again and again in her quest to reach the ocean, even if she herself can’t quite work out why.

This longing leads us into the films first of several knockout songs - not since The Lion King has a Disney soundtrack so entirely bowled me over, and on which more later - “Where You Are”. Hamilton’s Chris Jackson makes this into an anthem about family, about duty, about putting the tribe’s needs ahead of the dreams of one person. Of course what it truly does is serve as the inspiration for the journey that must follow.

We come to learn in time that like the very best of Disney characters, like Belle, or Mulan or Simba before her, Moana doesn’t quite fit in, and isn’t ready for the destiny laid out by her forefathers. She needs to journey out, discovering her path. This is presented beautifully in How Far I’ll Go. She understands tradition, but at the same time, she's “been standing at the edge of the water, long as [she] can remember, never really knowing why.” 

It’s when she journeys out into the Great Sea in search of Dwayne Johnson’s Maui though that the film hits its real stride. To begin with the oceanscape animation is a thing of beauty. You believe in it as a living entity, pushing Moana forward on her quest.

When we finally meet the demigod, its perfect. When I first heard that The Rock was going to be joining the Disney family, I rolled my eyes. I love The Rock, but Disney?! Surely not. And yet from the opening moments of ear worm You’re Welcome you realise he was born to play the role.

Just the right mix of arrogance, and self-obsession was what made The Great One such a wrestling phenomenon in the late 90’s and its exactly what makes Maui simultaneously hilarious and impossible to look away from.

His redemption arc gives the film its heart. We are already with Moana from the beginning, but in Maui we find the flawed character who we hope we can bring to the light as the movie progresses. In many ways (and its a comparison I keep coming back to), he is to this film as Beast was to Beauty and the Beast.

The visions of the spirit-ray and the ships as I Am Moana rips through the film will have your eyes glinting from their beauty even as the lyrics have you holding back tears as the anti-princess finds her feet.

On that note it is so refreshing to see a Disney female who is not the stereotypical princess with a love interest. Moana has no love interest at all, and while she is the daughter of the chief, she makes perfectly clear she is anything but a Princess. She is a strong and independent woman who will one day lead her tribe back across the ocean. She will make her own destiny.

Lin-Manuel Miranda’s soundtrack will forever sit among the list of the very best Disney have put out there. We Know The Way will be an anthem to rival Circle of Life, Tale as Old as Time or A Whole New World, but every single song has a place, and a purpose in the story. Just as Hakuna Matata, or Can’t Wait to Be King could be Lion King’s centrepiece, How Far I’ll Go or Shiny or any of a number of songs could stand out here.

To say I loved this film would be an understatement. I laughed, I cried, I literally felt my toe tapping along to the songs. It was spectacular.

If I can give you a piece of advice: Go see it. Now. And hey, in advance…You’re Welcome.