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Moana Movie Review

The Verdict9.5
Beyond being a beautiful piece of art filled with charismatic characters and stunning music, it's a wonderfully culturally-inspired fairy tale that captivates and thrills while shining the spotlight on a mythos rarely explored by Hollywood.

One of the things that we love about Pixar is that they take time – usually years – to create each one their cinematic masterpieces. And it shows. From Toy Story to The Incredibles, Wreck-It Ralph to Frozen and Zootopia, they make it perfectly clear that time and effort will lead to incredible results. And now they’ve done it again with their newest flick – the spellbinding, beautiful, and inspiring Moana.

Brought to life by stunning newcomer Auli’i Cravalho, Moana is the daughter of the chief of Motunui Island, and while she has spent her entire life feeling the ocean calling to her (sometimes literally), her parents have long forbade any journey beyond the reef. This all begins to change, however, when the natural resources of the island begin to die, and Moana realizes that she can’t follow the rules anymore. Believing that the answer lies in the stories told to her by her grandmother (Rachel House), and learning of her tribe’s long history as navigators, Monana takes to the sea with one purpose in mind: to find the shape-shifting demigod Maui (Dwayne Johnson) and force him to return the legendary Heart of Te Fiti back to from where he once stole it.

Structurally, it’s a very simple story that puts a lot on the relationship between Moana and Maui… but this ultimately winds up being one of the film’s greatest strengths, as their individual arcs are not only fully fleshed out and meaningful, but they play off each other magnificently. It’s hard not to instantly fall in love with the headstrong Moana, and her crises of confidence in the face of serious pressure and adversity is emotionally palpable – particularly when she finds the strength of will to overcome. Playing the contrast with the perfectly-cast Dwayne Johnson as the voice, Maui’s charisma comes from his amazing strength and self-assurance, but that naturally comes packaged with flaws like an inflated ego and a touch of praise addiction. Together they make a magnificently engaging duo, and the film gives them rich, full stories from beginning to end.

As though it weren’t enough to have the talents already mentioned, however, Moana also happens to have the brilliant team of Lin-Manuel Miranda, Opetaia Foa’I, and Mark Mancina taking care of the music — creating a soundtrack that is simply an endless stream of delightful and inspiring songs with a completely distinct sound and feel. Gifted the beautiful and stunning voice of Auli’i Cravalho (this is seriously not to be understated), the entire movie is filled with tracks that will both make you heartily laugh – particularly the Jemaine Clement-sung “Shiny” – and make the hair on the back of your neck stand on end. The theme “How Far I’ll Go” stands every chance to be seen as the new “Let It Go.”

Rounding out Moana as a true triple-threat is the simple elegance and beauty of the animation – which honestly, is just expected when it comes to the work of Disney’s studio. The technology the studio uses has gotten us to a point that whether in moments of intensity or terror – you can’t help but appreciate the powerful splendor of the world the story captures. This absolutely extends to the character design as well, as there’s an endless number of wonderful stylistic flourishes, from Maui’s often-cheeky living tattoos, to the epic mythical creatures.

Moana is the result of five years of work behind the scenes, and it’s work that shows brilliantly. Beyond being a beautiful piece of art filled with charismatic characters and stunning music, it’s a wonderful and culturally-inspired fairy tale that will captivate and thrill viewers of almost any age, while shining the spotlight on a mythos rarely explored by Hollywood.

Even the movies flaws (like an overabundance of cute side characters) find ways to balance themselves out (they’re all legitimately adorable and hilarious), and by the end you’re just going to walk out of the theater feeling uplifted, and more than likely humming a tune.

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