(WARNING: This post contains spoilers for Moana. You've been warned)
Being a long-time Disney fan, it is really nice to see in recent years that the House of Mouse has given us heroines who are self-empowering, highly skilled, and most important of all, independent of a life-saving, kiss-providing prince. From fiery redhead archer Merida in Brave to Frozen's ground-breaking princesses Elsa and Anna, strong-willed, inspiring and endearing #Disney Princesses are aplenty as of late, and the titular character of Disney's latest animation film, Moana, is the latest to join their ranks.
#Moana is an exhilarating musical fantasy adventure that follows the journey of a Polynesian tribal chief's teenage daughter, Moana (voiced by relative newcomer Auli’i Cravalho), who takes it upon herself to brave the vast oceans and return a mystical stone to an island goddess in order to save her homeland, with the help of demigod Maui (Dwayne Johnson).
Peppered with loads of vibrant songs written by a team headed by Lin-Manuel Miranda of Hamilton fame, Moana breezes along with charm and enthusiasm, aided by stunning visuals (especially the realistic-looking ocean currents and island greenery), fun dialogue and fascinating characters that are truly refreshing for a Disney movie.
Here are some of the film's winning factors:
1. A Disney Princess With Skills
Moana insists she is not a princess, but as demigod "hero of men" Maui said with a sneer: “If you wear a dress and have an animal sidekick, you’re a princess.” But there is more to Moana than just pretty island dresses and cute animal friends. As the tribal chief's daughter, she takes her tribal responsibilities seriously and offers good community ideas. Yes, she does argue with her father and disobey him at times, but at least her heart is in the right place and aims to save her tribe from a severe food shortage.
What impressed me most about her though is how — just like Disney Princesses such as Merida (in archery) and Mulan (in swordplay) — the 16-year-old would prove how skilled she can be in sailing and when responding to tumultuous, stormy moments at sea (although how she manages not to freeze to death in the icy cold ocean at night, clad in just her little tribal dress is beyond me). That, plus how she would not let the egoistic Maui walk all over her or needed a love interest to lead her on a path of self-discovery.
2. The Demigod's Lively Tattoos
Voiced with comic gusto by Dwayne "Sexiest Man Alive" Johnson, Maui is a hoot. Egoistic, obnoxious and a tad sexist when we first see him, the bulky demigod has some of the best lines in the movie, such as "When you use a bird to write with, it's called tweeting." The big-maned beefcake brings on the laughs, whether when grudgingly teaching Moana how to sail or when he turns into a frustrated shark-head after one of his shape-shifting turns went wrong.
What was really eye-opening are the animated tattoo figures on Maui's body, front and back, and especially the one on his chest, which mostly acted as his conscience, indicating to the demigod what right thing he should be doing. Akin to the dancing muses on a vase coming to life in 1997's Hercules, the tattoos truly add life and amusement to Maui's irresistible charisma.
3. The Kooky Animal Sidekick
Who would have thought a skinny chicken with bulging eyes and is just plain dumb could provide so many slapstick laughs? Disney often has a knack of coming up with the cutest looking and most adorable characters, and Hei Hei the dumb rooster is a great example. Although Moana's other animal sidekick is the oh-so-cute porkie Pua, in terms of comedic value, Hei Hei, wins hands down. As what Maui said near the end, "I'm gonna miss you, drumstick."
4. Attack Of The Killer Coconuts
Still on the subject of cute, I almost jumped up from my seat with glee when I saw the arrival of the menacing, blade-wielding, drum-beating coconut pirates known as the Kakamora. What a refreshing and innovative set of villains, tiny as they may be. Like a bunch of wicked Minions gone wild, they are truly a joy to behold. But given the choice of facing these little monsters or the towering Lava Monster, I rather face the latter.
5. Moana's Wave Protector
One of the most moving special effects in Moana is the realistic depiction of the ocean waves and the sea life within it. Among the enchanting elemental characters that stood out is the wave that follows and protects Moana throughout her voyage. Reminiscent of the game-changing water tentacle effect in 1989's The Abyss, it provides a couple of laughs when it helps Moana to get back on the boat each time Maui throws her off and also when rescuing Hei Hei each time the silly chickadee falls off the boat until the wave itself loses patience.
6. Baby Moana With The Big, Round Eyes
Last but not least (and technically, it should be the first) the movie gets off on the right foot when it introduces Moana as a uber cute toddler (you should have heard all the "awww's" in the theater) who, at a tender young age already has the heart to make sure a baby turtle returns to the ocean safely, away from hungry birds. As the ocean protects her from getting wet as she wanders further into the sea, audiences will learn that this girl is going to be someone special, one who protects the environment around her and who, in return, is protected by the elements.
All in all, Moana is yet another winner from Disney — funny, entertaining, with characters you will love and with positive messages for both the young and young-at-heart. Add to that, the world has another Disney Princess who little girls (as well as older ones) can look up to and emulate. Not to mention, makes one wants to rush out on a sailboat and sail the seven seas.
'Til the next one: