By Giana Haynia
Disney has had continuous success over the past few decades, creating hits such as “Cinderella,” “Peter Pan,” “Beauty and the Beast,” “Mulan,” “Frozen,” and more recently “Moana.” The newest name on the long list of great Disney movies follows Moana, voiced by Auli’i Cravalho, the only child of her village’s Chief Tui, who goes off on a quest to save her island by retrieving and returning the heart of Te Fiti, an island goddess. To do this, she enlists the help of Maui, dubbed by Dwayne Johnson, a shapeshifting demigod. It was released Thanksgiving weekend and is the first Disney movie to have a Polynesian princess.
The movie is heartfelt and touching while also maintaining a fun spirit. The animators and screenwriters accurately and beautifully convey Polynesian culture to audiences. Their extensive research is clear in the characters’ accurate body types, clothing, traditions, and tattoos. As with “Frozen,” “Moana” proves that a Disney film can be successful without the leading female character needing a love interest. At first, Maui was intended to be the main character and Moana was a secondary character on a quest to save her love interest, but Disney made the right decision by changing that completely.
Like in any Disney movie, “Moana” has catchy musical sequences that moviegoers may remember for years to come. Disney’s problem with “Frozen” was that the songs got very annoying, very fast; however, they fixed the problem and had exquisite music written and composed by Lin Manuel Miranda, Opetaia Foa’i, and Mark Mancina. Some parts of the music were even sung in the Tokelauan language.
The character of Moana is a refreshing change from the typical Disney female. This princess has a form that is realistic, and the animators put time into getting it right. The character is witty, funny, resourceful, and independent though accepting of help from her family. She makes mistakes along the way, but she ultimately learns from them to better herself and finish her quest. Moana starts off on her journey insecure and unsure of her abilities, and questions if the ocean was right in choosing her to be the one to return Te Fiti’s heart, but with convincing advice from her grandmother, she continues on.
Along with Moana, Maui also has great character development and story arc. When the audience first meets him, he’s known as the one who stole Te Fiti’s heart in order to gain its power. Moana finds him and attempts to get him to help her, but he arrogantly assumes she’s there to get his autograph. He acts this pretentious throughout the film, even deserting Moana when he gets too frustrated with her. But in the third act, he returns to help Moana defeat Te Kā, a lava demon, which enables her to return the heart of Te Fiti. Maui is fantastically written, and it’s obvious that he’s there to teach children to not care what people say and that they’re perfect in their own way.