When walking inside a world as intimate as Disney, there’s a sense of familiarity with the many morals, motives and motifs — recurring or reinforced — it regularly supplies.
One of its most beloved ideas right now is to throw its undaunted but inexperienced heroine into the mouth of trouble until she’s discovered her true, not love but, mettle.
If Academy award-winning animation like Brave and Frozen toppled Prince Charming’s monopoly to focus on parent-child and sibling equations against a Scottish and Scandinavian milieu, Disney’s feisty new Princess feasts on Polynesian folklore to promote its underlying allegory on environmentalism in directors Ron Clements and John Musker’s Moana.
There are gobs and grains of the afore-mentioned movies as well as Tangled, Mulan, Shrek, The Little Mermaid, Finding Nemo, Spirited Away, The Good Dinosaur, Lord of the Rings and even Mad Max: Fury Road, in the way Moana plunges headlong into a voyage. It’s frowned upon by her orthodox father and facilitated by her oddball grandmother. It’s also in the strength she musters and adversaries she outwits employing friends, sidekicks and totems.
Foreseeable as it is, Moana’s unflinching optimism in self-obsessed idols and spunky refusal to play safe when buoyed by an effervescent soundtrack (Lin-Manuel Miranda, Opetaia Foa’i and Mark Mancina) lends fresh charm to the damsel’s narrative and turns her into someone you want to root for.
Even in the absence of its upbeat score, Moana’s visual resplendence is a joy to behold.
Amidst elegant 3D images of fantasy and frolic, mystic and mystery, serenity and sweeping, Moana offers riveting glimpses of the indigenous heritage she leaves behind to outwit quirky, comically dangerous inhabitants above and under the sea. Sequences involving an ambush conducted by coconut bodied pirates and a psychedelia-prone shiny, self-loving crab are a hoot.
Voiced by the sprightly teenager Auli’i Cravalho, Moana is chosen to sail beyond the reef by the nimble ocean spirit and her quip-ready Gramma. She must locate Maui (a sensational, smirking, singing Dwayne Johnson), the scallywag demigod whose ballooned, brawny torso is bursting with mobile tattoos and narcissistic pride.
Far from remorseful — having nicked Greenery Goddess Te Fiti’s heart and sparked off Mother Nature’s ire — Maui wears the air of a bossy big brother around Moana. ‘You’re face to face with greatness. And it’s strange, you don’t even know how you feel,’ he scoffs at her in the delightful You’re Welcome ditty.
Except she does.
Unlike the boastful Maui, Moana doesn’t rely on sorcery or skills to realise her enduring strength. It comes from constantly reminding herself who she is and what she’s capable of. The simplicity of her rather Inigo Montoya method is both heartfelt and reassuring. As is this cheerful Disney offering that maintains not all great adventures in a girl’s life require romance.
Moana is a journey you want to get on. It doesn’t take you to places you don’t know but ones you actually like.