For the first time since 2002, the Walt Disney Animation Studios are releasing two films within the same year. Funnily enough, the second Disney film in 2002 (Treasure Planet) was a Clements/Musker production just like the movie we'll be talking about today, Moana.
Read our spoiler-free review of the film below and see if we think Disney did it again.
Moana is living on a Polynesian island since she was born and she is forbidden to go beyond the reef by her father, the chief of the tribe. Yet she feels the ocean is calling her and believes the only way to save her dying island is to set sail. Specifically, a legend says that demi-god Maui has to return the heart of Te Fiti (a gem) to its rightful place.
Moana is pretty much everything you would expect from a John Musker & Ron Clements Disney movie. It's fun, it's got a vibrant sense of adventure and it also contains all the tropes and clichés Disney musicals have. The funny sidekick is here alright; the 'I want' song is also in, and there is even a villain song. These songs are extremely catchy, well performed and well written by Lin-Manuel Miranda, Opetaia Foa'i and Mark Mancina (with How Far I'll Go, You're Welcome and Shiny being the clear stand-outs for me).
All of these parts are excellent; the only problem is we've seen it before. Not with this particular setting - the Polynesian culture has been thoroughly witnessed and experienced by the filmmakers and it shows.
Still, there's a predictability to the story that hurts it. Moana appears to be pretty straightforward in terms of plot. It's basically a road trip on the ocean, with characters making a plan to go from point A to point B and mostly, the film sticks to this plan.
I would also add that after a film like Zootopia, which was multi-layered and surprisingly deep, Moana seems a bit shallow; even if there is some subtext about self-empowerment and not giving up when you're facing failure.
Fortunately the characters and their relationships are strong enough to get you invested. The growing bond between Moana and demi-god Maui, in particular, is a sweet one.
The secondary characters are fun too, with Hei Hei the rooster (basically a one-joke character who is still hilarious by the end of the film) getting the biggest laughs. Mini-Maui (one of Maui's tattoos) is also a nice addition the the cast and joyously brings some traditional animation into the mix.
In short, Moana is a hugely entertaining. The characters, songs, visuals are great, and if you're looking for a good musical/adventure film, search no further: Moana is the thing you need for the end of this year.