Release Date: November 23rd, 2016
Inspiration: Polynesian mythology
Budget: $150-175 million
Domestic Gross: $248.7 million
Worldwide Gross: $690.8 million
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 95%
IMDB Score: 7.6/10
Storyline (per IMDB): Moana Waialiki is a sea voyaging enthusiast and the only daughter of a chief in a long line of navigators. When her island’s fishermen can’t catch any fish and the crops fail, she learns that the demigod Maui caused the blight by stealing the heart of the goddess, Te Fiti. The only way to heal the island is to persuade Maui to return Te Fiti’s heart, so Moana sets off on an epic journey across the Pacific. The film is based on stories from Polynesian mythology.
Pre-Watching Thoughts: We are nearing the end of the line as we have the second film of 2016 and after how well Zootopia ended up doing, there was some intrigue as to how this film would end up doing. This is a film that had so good hype going in particularly due to its focus on Polynesian folklore which was fairly uncommon, and they were smart to involve people that were heavily involved in that culture as it made it feel more authentic. We have been on a great stretch with two perfect films and a near perfect film, and we will see how this film holds up even though it has only been out for a few years.
Voice Cast: After having one of the largest casts in recent memory, we flip the script and go back to having a pretty small cast which works here since there aren’t a lot of characters to focus on in this film. We do have a returning actor and that is Alan Tudyk who voices Heihei the rooster as well as a villager, and he is certainly becoming a mainstay in the Disney films much like his predecessors in the glory days. Moving onto the newcomers, we have Auli’i Cravalho who voices Moana in her first major film role and we will also mention Louise Bush who voices Moana as a child, and then we have Dwayne Johnson who voices Maui in one of his most memorable film roles in his acting career post wrestling. We then have Rachel House who voices Gramma Tala in of the biggest roles of her career to this point, and then we have Temuera Morrison who voices Chief Tui as he was hitting the peak of his career and we will also mention Christopher Jackson who provides the singing voice. Next, we have Jemaine Clement who voices Tamatoa in one of the more memorable roles of his career, and then we have Nicole Scherzinger who voices Sina in one of the few film roles of her career. We then have Oscar Kightley who voices a fisherman in a minor role and then we have former football star Troy Polamalu who voices a villager in a minor role, and finally we have Puanani Cravalho who voices a villager in a minor role. Again, when you have a small number of characters you don’t need to have a large cast involved and it was also shrewd to have some actors from New Zealand involved to keep with the authenticity of the film.
Hero/Prince: We do have a hero to talk about even though the true hero of the film won’t be mentioned until the next category, and I am of course talking about the demigod Maui who we first see steal the heart of Te Fiti so he can give it to humanity though he is attacked by Te Ka and loses his magic fishhook while also being stranded on an island. Well over a millennia later, Moana arrives on his island and he charms his way into stealing her raft while leaving her on the island, but the ocean helps her return to the raft and he refuses to return the heart. They are attacked by pirates though manage to escape and he reluctantly teaches her to navigate as they arrive to Lalotai to retrieve his hook. They encounter Tamatoa and after nearly being killed, Maui recovers his hook and they escape though Maui has trouble getting his powers back to normal, and Moana helps him do that as he continues to show her how to be a navigator. They encounter Te Ka and Maui fights her though his hook is damaged and he leaves Moana behind, but he returns when Moana continues on and he fights Te Ka again as his hook is destroyed. He is prepared to sacrifice himself though Moana learns the truth and ends up restoring Te Fiti, and Maui apologizes for taking her heart and she presents him with a new hook as he leaves though he continues to watch over Moana. Maui is an interesting character in that he is a powerful demigod and has done much to the benefit of man, but he is very conceited and even manipulative though Moana is able to see through him. Even after retrieving his hook, he is still reluctant and even admits that he was abandoned as a baby by his human parents and the gods took him in and made him a demigod. After the first fight with Te Ka, he completely loses hope and even believes that the ocean made a mistake in picking Moana, but he has a change of heart and does what he can to help her as well as make amends with Te Fiti after she is restored. Maui desires nothing more than to be loved by humanity though he learns that there is a lot more to being a hero and he becomes humbled by his journey with Moana, and while he is not the main hero of the film he is still a good hero and one of the more memorable ones in history.
Princess: I mentioned earlier that the true hero of the film belongs in this category which she does and I am of course talking about Moana, the daughter of the chief of Motunui and his wife. As a child, she is immediately drawn to the water and after helping a baby turtle reach the ocean, the ocean in essence chooses her by giving her the heart of Te Fiti though she loses it when her father takes her away, and as she grows up she continues to be drawn to the ocean despite her father wanting her to eventually take his place as chief. When she turns 16, the island starts to fall under blight and Moana decides to take a raft past the reef though she fails miserably, and her Gramma shows her the hidden rafts and she learns they were voyagers which she shares with everyone. Her father wants to destroy the rafts though is preoccupied when Gramma passes away and Moana takes one of the rafts as she sets sail to find Moana, and after being shipwrecked on an island after a storm she meets Maui who tricks her into taking her raft and leaving her on the island. The ocean helps her get to the raft and she demands that he take her to Te Fiti though he refuses, and they are attacked by pirates who nearly steal the heart though Moana recovers it and they escape. Maui agrees to help her though they first head to Lalotai to retrieve his hook from Tamatoa which they do, and they continue on their journey as Moana learns about Maui’s life and he teaches her to be a proper navigator. They arrive at Te Fiti where they battle Te Ka and she splashes them away as Maui’s hook is damaged, and he abandons her and she loses hope as she discards the heart though she is met by the spirit of Gramma and she realizes her destiny as she reclaims the heart and returns to face Te Ka. Maui also returns and fights Te Ka as Moana reaches the island though sees that Te Fiti is gone, but she then realizes that Te Ka is Te Fiti as she comforts her and returns the heart which allows Te Fiti to return to her normal form. She gifts Moana with a new boat and she parts ways with Maui as she returns to her home island, and she leads members of the tribe to the sea as they go on a voyage to find new islands. Moana is fiercely independent and has a love for the water that she can’t comprehend to begin with, and her father does his best to keep her focused on the tribe and becoming chief though she can’t help but remain drawn to the water. After learning the truth of her people, she decides to embark on this voyage despite having no knowledge of sailing and she frequently clashes with Maui on their journey, and after their first battle with Te Ka Moana becomes disheartened and doubts the ocean’s decision to choose her though she gets encouragement from her Gramma. Ultimately, she does restore the heart of Te Fiti and returns home a hero as her father accepts her for who she is, and she is arguably one of the more memorable princesses of all time and it will be interesting to see how she stacks up against the older princesses.
Villain: We have another unique villain to talk about as we have been on a run of unexpected villains and we have another one here, and that is the volcanic demon known as Te Ka who arrives to claim the heart of Te Fiti right as Maui takes it for himself. Te Ka attacks Maui and the heart is lost as Te Ka goes dormant where Te Fiti used to be for over a millennia, and Moana and Maui appear to return the heart though Te Ka attacks them and sends them away as Maui’s hook is damaged. Moana returns alone and tries to get past Te Ka who tries to kill her until Maui returns to assist, and Maui fights Te Ka and his hook is destroyed as Moana reaches the island though notices Te Fiti is not there. She discovers that Te Ka is Te Fiti corrupted and she comforts her before returning her heart and Te Fiti is restored, and she forgives Maui and gifts him a new hook as she brings everything back to life before going back to sleep. It is interesting because at first Te Ka is presented as a separate entity to Te Fiti and also feels like they are protecting something as opposed to attacking, and the realization that Te Ka and Te Fiti are in fact the same was pretty crazy to see though it was a great reveal. Because of that, Te Ka probably won’t be ranking very high amongst the other villains since she is restored at the end, but I don’t think she will rank as the worst though we will see.
Other Characters: As I mentioned earlier, this film doesn’t have a lot of characters to talk about as it is mainly focused on Moana and Maui, but there are still a few characters that are important to talk about. First, we have the chicken Heihei that is clearly a little bit messed up and he is not taken seriously, and he ends up on Moana’s boat and joins her and Maui on the journey though he nearly eats the heart of Te Fiti a few times. He does save the heart for Moana as they try to escape Te Ka and he is shown love by Maui in the end after Maui at first wanted to eat him. We then have the villagers of Motunui including Moana’s father Tui who is the chief of the village, and he tries to keep Moana away from the water and groom her to be his heir to the point that he even threatens to destroy the boats after she finds them. After she returns from her journey, he accepts her for who she is and joins her on the journey to find new islands. We then have Moana’s mother and Tui’s wife Sina who is torn between what Moana wants and how Tui wants her to act, and when she learns Moana plans on leaving she helps her back and gives her blessing. After Moana returns, Sina joins Tui and Moana on their journey to find new islands. Next, we have Tui’s mother Gramma Tala who loves the water and tells Moana the story of Te Fiti and Maui, and on her deathbed she gives Moana the heart of Te Fiti and tells her that she has to make the journey. When Moana is at her lowest and ready to give up, Tala appears as a spirit and encourages her to continue by showing her the spirits of her ancestors. We then have Moana’s pet pig Pua who is supportive of her wanting to sail and joins her on her first try, but after they capsize and are forced back to land he is scared to go back out though he does join Moana in the end. We also have the other villagers of the island that look to Tui and Moana when the island starts to turn sick, and after Moana returns from her journey half of them stay at Motunui while the rest go with Moana and her family on their journey. Next, we have the coconut pirates called the Kakamora who attack Moana and Maui as they try to steal the heart, but Moana and Maui fight back and the pirates’ ships are destroyed. Finally, we have the giant crab Tamatoa who collects different treasure and has obtained Maui’s hook, and Maui and Moana work together to retrieve the hook while Tamatoa attacks them only for them to leave him turned over on his back where he is left for eternity. Again, since the story was mainly focused on Moana and Maui, you didn’t need to have a lot of characters as most of them would’ve been too much clutter and they did a good job in having the characters here still have some importance.
Songs: After the last two films had pretty much no songs aside from one or two, we go back to having the film basically be a musical film as there are a good amount of songs in this film, and what makes it better is that they incorporated South Pacific and New Zealand music culture into it which made it fit really well with the film. The first song to talk about is “Where You Are” which is sung as Moana grows up and her father grooms her to be his heir while keeping her away from the water, and it is a good song to showcase the struggle of Moana determining where she wants to be. The next song is the centerpiece song of the film which is “How Far I’ll Go” sung by Moana a few times as she vows to complete her journey and return the heart, and it is a great song and one of the better ones of the decade. The next song is “We Know the Way” which is heard as Moana learns about her ancestors and their history, and it is a fine song that features a good showcase of Polynesian culture. The next song in the film is another centerpiece song and that is “You’re Welcome” sung by Maui as he sings about his accomplishments while tricking Moana into giving him her boat. It is a really fun song that shows that Dwayne Johnson was a good singer and it is a good song to sing along with. The next song in the film is “Shiny” sung by Tamatoa as he brags to Moana about himself while also fighting Maui, and it is another fun song to hear as Tamatoa has no problem talking about himself. The next song in the film is “I Am Moana (Song of the Ancestors)” that Moana sings as she finally comes to terms with who she really is, and it is another pretty powerful song to showcase Moana and her vocal skills. Finally, we have the song “Know Who You Are” that Moana sings as she tells Te Ka that she knows who she really is, and it is a simple and solid song for Moana as we get the climax in the end of Te Ka being revealed to be Te Fiti. It was good to see them go back to this format and we will see which way the last two films go as we get to them.
Plot: So this film isn’t so much based on a story as it is more based on Polynesian folklore and mythology, and taking that mythology and crafting an original story can either work well or not depending on how it turns out. In the film, Te Fiti brings life to the ocean until the demigod Maui steals her heart though he confronts Te Ka and the heart is lost, and thousands of years later Moana is drawn to the water who choose her by giving her the heart though her Gramma keeps it. As she grows up, her father Tui tries to keep her away from the water while grooming her to be his heir though she remains drawn to the water, and Gramma shows her the hidden boats and Moana learns they were voyagers. Tui vows to destroy the ships until they learn that Gramma is dying and she entrusts Moana to find Maui and return the heart, and Moana takes a boat out to sea though she sails into a storm and is shipwrecked on an island. She meets Maui who steals the boat from her though the ocean takes her to it and they are attacked by pirates, but they survive and Maui agrees to help Moana though he must retrieve his magic hook first. They arrive to Lalotai and fight Tamatoa as Maui recovers his hook and they manage to escape as Maui trains Moana to be a voyager, and they arrive to the island where they fight Te Ka only to be blown away and Maui’s hook is damaged. Maui leaves Moana behind and she gives up only for Gramma to visit her as a spirit and inspires her to keep going, and Maui returns as well to fight Te Ka as Moana reaches the island though sees Te Fiti is gone. She realizes that Te Ka is actually a corrupted Te Fiti and she returns the heart which restores Te Fiti to her original state, and Te Fiti brings everything back to life as Maui apologizes for stealing her heart and she gifts him a new hook. Maui departs as Moana returns to her island and is greeted by her family and the village, and they take the boats out and set out to find new islands with Moana leading the way. I think they do a good job in balancing the mythology while also telling the story of this girl who goes on a great journey to discover who she really is, and you can argue that it is one of the more well fleshed out stories that Disney has possibly ever done.
Random Watching Thoughts: I like how they have the special music playing during the opening logos; It’s a good thing they did a brief prologue to set the scene as to what everyone is about to go through; Maui changing into various animals to sneak his way into the center of Te Fiti; They make Maui seem real sinister when he takes the heart; They really do a good job in making Te Ka seem like a completely separate entity; All those kids are so scared while Moana is completely enthralled with the story; One child cries, one child faints, and Moana applauds; He says there are no monsters as he unveils the tapestries with monsters on them; He tries to calm the kids down as Tana keeps saying her stories are real; Tui has a point, the island is really pretty; That poor baby turtle; Fun fact, when I went to Aruba in 2005 with my family the hotel we stayed at had certain sections of the beach taped off and we learned they were turtle nests, and on one of the nights we were there the eggs hatched and we watched a line of baby turtles use the moonlight to crawl down the beach to the water; Even as a toddler, Moana knew how to protect that turtle from the birds; Moana helps a baby turtle and based on that, the ocean deems her worthy of receiving the heart; The visuals in this scene are just absolutely stunning; It literally looks like she is at an aquarium the way the water is; The water has just become sentient and Moana looks at it like it is perfectly normal; Apparently the water can style hair as well; Clearly, it seems like Moana wants to be in the water; Fun fact, the pictures on the tapestry that was put on the line features the directors of the film; Poor Heihei, he clearly was rolled around when he was still an egg; Pua really likes coconut milk; Heihei just sat on a fire and paid no mind to it; Tui should just accept that Moana wants to be with the water by this point; Tui is trying to keep Moana away and Tala has no problem helping her embrace it; The island has seen quite a number of chiefs given how many stones are in the tower; That brief moment where Tui thinks he finally got through to Moana as she embraces her role on the island; The island is a lot larger than you would probably think; That villager has been stressed out on his hut leaking and Moana fixed it in no time; Moana eating some pork as Pua is sitting right next to her; Yeah, he’s going to be in for a painful few hours; That one kid flirting with Moana; That’s not nice of that villager to want to just cook Heihei because he is different; Heihei did a yeoman’s job in swallowing that rock; It only took a thousand years, but the effects of Maui stealing the heart is now starting to affect the island; If there is no fish, how is changing the bait going to fix that?; Awkward moment for the villagers seeing Moana and Tui argue; Sina trying to be the middle ground between Tui and Moana; It is interesting that they showed why Tui doesn’t want Moana to go out beyond the reef because he lost his friend; I think I am not going too far as to say that “How Far I’ll Go” is one of the best songs sung by a Disney princess in the canon; Another fun fact, the carpet they lay out during the song is similar to the flying carpet in “Aladdin”; Pua is so excited to go sailing with Moana; That moment when she realizes sailing is not as easy as it looks; She was underwater for quite a long time and somehow didn’t drown; One trip out and Pua doesn’t want to go out ever again; Key advice from Tala, whatever happened is the pig’s fault; Tala obviously knows Moana doesn’t mean what she says, but let’s her make her own decision; She actually had a stingray tattooed on her back; The chief’s mother is the village crazy lady; Tala couldn’t wait to show Moana the hiding space of the boats; Those boats have been kept in pretty good condition for being hidden for so long; She plays the drums and the torches light by themselves; We go from Moana looking at the sails showing the story to actually seeing the voyagers make their journey; They are sailing yet find time to do a whole musical number at the same time; They arrive and settle on the island only for others to go back to the ocean after some time; She was so excited to learn the truth though quickly stopped to ask Tala more questions; She says that someone will go knowing she was basically telling Moana she’s the one; The stars are in on it as well as they form the shape of Maui’s hook to serve as the map; I feel like Tala knew she was going to die soon, so she wanted to make sure Moana knew everything in time; He throws the heart to a spot where Moana would happen to find Tala’s cane; Tala made sure to tell Moana to grab Maui by the ear when she found him; Sina knows Moana is leaving and decides to help her; Tala dies and her stingray spirit immediately appears to guide Moana; How did Heihei even end up in that boat?; Heihei realizes he is in the middle of the ocean and freaks out; Heihei just walks back and forth; She spends her days just reciting what she is going to say to Maui when she sees him; She asks the ocean for help and it sends her a storm; She tries to kick the water and it pulls away; Ooh, she really showed the water when she said fish pee in it all day; Maui counts the number of days he’s been on the island and makes it into the shape of his hook; She tries to do her speech and Maui keeps interrupting her; Maui uses Heihei to autograph her oar, The first known instance of “tweeting”; I love how they have Maui doing the People’s Eyebrow; Maui claiming responsibility for a lot of things; He killed an eel and buried its guts which led to the sprouting of coconuts; Maui is so convincing that he has Moana enchanted; I know he wanted the boat, but that was still pretty mean to seal her up in a cave; Even Mini-Maui knew that Maui was being a jerk by leaving Moana in that cave; There just happened to be a statue of Maui in that cave; He moves Heihei into the food though he just pecks at it and doesn’t eat it; Moana, the first belly flop champion in history; The water is like “Here, we’ll give you a hand”; When will he realize that throwing her into the water won’t work?; He got some good distance on that throw; Maui trying to be tough while Mini-Maui is scared out of his mind; He says he will smite her yet is pretty useless without the hook; They went from being the only ones in the middle of the ocean to having the pirates show up; Now there are sentient coconuts; At least she was honest about being self-taught; That’s not a boat, that’s a miniature floating city; Heihei was actually smart to eat the heart to protect it; She thinks they are going for Heihei when he is trying to escape; Fun fact, one of the Kakamora’s face is painted like Baymax from “Big Hero 6”; The one that got shot looked back and was like “Really?” before passing out; He asks if Moana ever defeated a lava monster and she turned it around on him much to his dismay; Moana – 1, Maui – 0; Moana uses the prospect of being a hero to convince Maui; They shake hands and he tries to throw her in the water one more time; So according to Maui, a princess wears a dress and has an animal sidekick; The water gave Moana a high five; Even half groggy, Maui knows that Moana is doing everything wrong; Maui peeing into the water right as Moana is touching it to feel the current; Maui still trying to feed Heihei; That was a pretty weak joke by Maui; Moana caught up to him pretty quickly; He’s going to throw up if she starts singing yet he was singing not that long ago; Maui has to do a tribal dance before opening up the way; I am still falling!; Moana – 2, Maui – 0; She’s lucky that plant ate that monster before it ate her; That’s quite the treasure trove that Tamatoa has amassed; He wants silky hair, his hook, and being awesome; Moana clearly doesn’t want to be a part of this plan; She can’t pick one of the eyes to focus on; “Crabulous”; Not only will he talk about himself, he will sing about himself; The fish are drawn to the treasure and Tamatoa eats them; Fun fact, one of the items on Tamatoa’s shell is the lamp from “Aladdin”; Another fun fact, one of the animals that Maui turns into is Sven the reindeer from “Frozen”; We have a fight going on and Tamatoa has to keep his song going; He says that Moana can’t run from him as she starts running; Bioluminescent algae; He just got left defenseless on his back and still wants to know if they liked the song; Shark head; He went from a shark head and human legs to a human top and shark fin; That is pretty sad that the moment of him being abandoned by his parents is tattooed on his skin; Moana bears her soul to Maui which leads him to revealing his tragic past; Even though he was cast away by humans, Maui did everything he could to be praised by humans and be loved; Mini-Maui makes their mission seem so simple; Maui had to turn into a whale to splash Moana; The water is like “Heihei, you are staying in here whether you like it or not”; It is weird seeing the tattoos come to life and tell stories; Mini-Maui leading a “Moana” cheer; Moana thinking smart in trying to find a way around Te Ka instead of facing her straight on; They got sent a long way after that blast; Moana makes a good point that Maui did cause all this by stealing the heart; After all that, Moana thinks she’s not the right one and tells the ocean to choose someone else, but they take the heart to the bottom of the water as if to say “There is no one else”; Right on cue, Tala shows up as a stingray spirit before appearing in human form; Fitting that the sea is completely calm at this moment; It’s a good thing she was able to reach the heart without drowning; Moana adjusts her speech to say that she herself will restore the heart of Te Fiti; They were shot quite a ways away if it took her at least a day to get back; She explains her entire plan to Heihei like he would understand; That was a quick turnaround she made; Heihei making the save; I’m pretty sure that Mini-Maui is the one that convinced Maui to come back; Shark head; You would think that cutting the arms off won’t work since they keep growing back; The big twist that Te Fiti is not there and Moana realizes that Te Ka is Te Fiti; Even without his hook, Maui is prepared to sacrifice himself; Moana parting the sea like Moses; Again, the cinematography is just amazing; This is low key one of the best moments in Disney history of Te Fiti emerging from the remains of Te Ka; A neat little twist is that if you look at them, Te Fiti and Moana look very similar; Te Fiti looks at Maui like “You again?”; Even though he stole her heart, she is willing to forgive him and give him a new hook; Pretty cool moment seeing Moana on a boat appear as a tattoo on Maui; Now, all the damage caused is restored to the island; Tui finally accepts Moana for who she is; Fitting that Moana leaves her mark on the tower with a seashell; It would’ve been cool to see the baby turtle that Moana helped when she was little show up again as an adult and help her in some way; That one tapestry at the end is a picture of Wreck-It Ralph; Tamatoa still on his back; Pretty ballsy of him to say that people would only care about him if his name was Sebastian and he had a Jamaican accent.
Overall Thoughts: Overall, this ended up being a fantastic film and despite only being 4 years old at the time of this review, I believe that it still holds up with some of the best films in the canon. I had said that the trifecta of Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, and the Lion King was the best 3-film stretch, but I would argue this is the best 4-film stretch as 3 of the 4 were perfect and the 4th one was near perfect. I don’t know what changed from the 2000s to the 2010s, but so far the 2010s have completely blown the 2000s out of the water and it even stands up to the Disney Renaissance’s peak of films. Disney has been on fire as almost all of their film properties have been great in terms of money making and with our next animated film coming in 2018, we will see how that one holds up. As for this film, it is a great film and one of the best ever which certainly covers a lot of ground.
Final Grade: 10/10