Moana: First, Spoiler-Free Thoughts

I had the pleasure of seeing Moana at a special preview at the National Film Theatre in London earlier today, and it was a wonderful experience. Not only was the film great, but there was a (sadly very short as they had prior commitments) Q&A with Ron Clements, John Musker, producer Osnat Shurer, and Moana herself Auli’i Cravalho.I also met lovely new people, which was a big step forwards for me. 

No Disney film passes my eyes without an extended pretentious blog, and Moana will definitely be getting that. But as the film isn’t out yet, I wanted to get some brief, non-spoilery thoughts down first. So here they are.

– The film is terrific. Funny, exciting, and deeply moving, it has something to offer everyone and should do huge business over the Thanksgiving and Christmas period.

– Moana herself is a tremendous character, and you’ll likely hear in reviews how different she is from other Princess characters. She is, in a sense, but as I’ll explain in my longer post, what’s important in Princess characters is their inner strength, and that’s what defines Moana as much as, if not more than, her action heroics.

– That said, it’s a joy to see a Princess character fight creepy coconut dudes, battle giant crabs, and dodge poison tipped blow darts. Moana’s a fighter and I’m excited by the prospect of young girls and women being inspired by that.

– Auli’i Cravalho gives a performance of remarkable confidence. She’s just 15 years old and has never acted before, but carries the film beautifully, sings with incredble passion, and has fantastic comic chemistry with Dwayne Johnson. Much of Moana‘s success is down to her.

– Johnson treads a very fine line with Maui, who comes off as the demigod of mansplaining early in the film. He’s an arrogant character, not a million miles away from Gaston, but can’t be too arrogant as he’s not the villain and develops in some pretty profound ways as the film progresses. It’s a tough balance, but Johnson nails it. Got a great voice too.

– One of the truly great achievements of the film is its visuals. The naturalistic CG animation sparkles, but we also get some wonderful stylised work and some lovely 2D thanks to Eric Goldberg’s animation of Maui’s tattoos. It’s a true feast for the eyes.

– As this is a Ron and John film there are clear links to The Little Mermaid, but there’s also a bit of Hercules, Tangled, Frozen, and Mulan in there too. It makes for a wonderful mixture.

– Hei Hei, an idiotic chicken voiced by Alan Tudyk, is the hero we didn’t know we needed. He wins the biggest laugh (a gag of extended nonsense that gets funnier as it goes on) and has a moment late on that’s surprisingly emotional. 

Moana touches on many things (storytelling, the natural world, coming of age) but perhaps its most important theme is identity: not just knowing who you are in your culture, but knowing how your culture fits into the world. 

– It’s tempting to read everything through a post-Trump lens now, but while Moana certainly wasn’t influenced by his campaign, it feels like a perfect antidote to it. There’s more to life than what you know: get out there and discover what you don’t.

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