Disney has done it again and this time the sun shines brightly on “Moana,” a delightful and inspiring animated feature showcasing the vocal talent of Dwayne Johnson and newcomer Auli’i Cravalho, a Hawaiian native who steals the show with her magnificent singing. Boasting four directors and a host of screenwriters, “Moana” captures audiences’ hearts the way Frozen did and so many other Disney films do, placing it keenly in my top 10 films for the year.
Set on a lush, secluded Pacific island, “Moana” chronicles the adventures of its namesake, a young girl, destined to be queen. She is overprotected by her father, Chief Tui (Temuera Morrison), but encouraged by her Grandma Tala (Rachel House) to venture out into the sea to seek out Maui (Johnson) a demigod whose actions ages before altered the history and the future of her people. A destructive force begins infecting the islands fish and coconut crops and Moana sets out to find her true destiny, accompanied only by a “challenged chicken” and the ocean that quite literally embraces her, until that is, she meets Maui.
Beautifully-rendered by scores of animators, Disney’s latest offering is wonderful to watch – visually compelling and exuberantly vibrant. The characters are rich, culturally-defined and expressively entertaining. Johnson, who sings one of the film’s most memorable songs, is delightful, as the arrogant demigod, Maui. Animators spare nothing to make these “cartoon characters” realistic and engaging and Johnson’s natural comic tendencies flesh out Maui well. First time actress, a sophomore in high school, Cravalho, sings angelically and she too breathes life into her character. These two actors’ voices make their respective characters leap from the screen more so even that the gifted artists behind the animation.
“Moana” is a must see for the winter holidays. Families will have a wonderful time at the holiday regardless of age. It and “Kubo and the Two Strings” are the best animated features this year. With that in mind, I am placing a resounding “A” in my grade book for “Moana.” While the story is somewhat predictably Disney, so much shines in this magical tale – it is engaging and stunning from start to finish.