By Erika Riley
Disney’s newest musical movie masterpiece, “Moana,” opened in theaters this holiday season and is unsurprisingly a hit. Kids and adults alike will enjoy its strong protagonist, charming sidekick, beautifully crafted songs and inspirational message.
The story starts with an introduction to a Pacific Islander myth about the demigod Maui (Dwayne Johnson) and how he stole the heart of Te Ka. He hoped to bring it to the humans who he lived to serve, but instead opened up a darkness that still crept through the oceans to the present day.
Moana is the daughter of the chief of an island in the Pacific, where everybody lives peacefully and works together to make sure the island is running smoothly. Moana is destined to run the island one day but can’t help wanting to see what’s beyond the reef. Her exploratory nature gets the best of her. When the island is in trouble due to the darkness Maui unleashed, she takes it upon herself to take off on a boat and get the heart back.
The movie feels less like a Disney princess movie after that and more like an adventure, as we watch Moana sail across the ocean in search for Maui. She is simultaneously strong and flawed; while she is confident in her abilities and determined to save her island, she is also not a very good sailor or navigator, or very convincing when she does meet Maui. Yet we watch her grow and learn, and that’s an arc that is rarely seen out of “princesses.” Moana does, however, declare that she is not a princess, insisting that she is the daughter of the chief.
Moana is fronted by new voice actress and native Hawaiian Auli’i Cravalho, who beautifully brings her to life, especially during her musical numbers. This is the first musical movie that Disney has released since “Frozen” in 2013, and it does not disappoint. Lin-Manuel Miranda, writer of the hit Broadway musical “Hamilton,” co-wrote the original songs for the movie with Mark Mancina and Opetia Foi’a. The songs are both catchy and empowering and have a very similar driving groove to them that can be found in the “Hamilton” sound track. “How Far I’ll Go” and its reprises are the most influential songs in the movie, and can easily be seen as the new “Let It Go.” Johnson makes his musical debut with Maui’s “You’re Welcome,” a catchy and fun song that helps flesh out Maui’s self-righteous and confident character.
While the plot of the movie is similar to what Disney has done in the past, with a female protagonist going on a quest with the help of a man, it takes a steep curve in the fact that it does not have a love interest. Even though Moana is traveling with Maui, there is never any foreshadowing that they will be in a relationship, and they remain friends throughout the movie. In the end, it’s Moana who saves the day and figures out how to bring peace and prosperity back to her home, not Maui.
The movie is geared toward kids but will also be perfect for parents and teenagers who are nostalgic for classic Disney movies. While the humor is sometimes geared more toward children, there are some comments throughout the movie where Disney pokes fun at itself that adults will pick up on more.
Moana is a great role model for kids, and the inclusion of Pacific Islander culture is a stark contrast from movies like “Tangled” and “Frozen,” which featured white protagonists. Moana learns more about her culture throughout the movie, and it’s a beautiful part of the plot, and an arc rarely seen in fairy tales.
Moana is a great choice for a movie to see with the whole family this holiday season. It is currently playing at AMC Theaters across the Island, as well as PJ Cinemas in Port Jefferson Station.
About the author: Stony Brook resident Erika Riley is a sophomore at Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois. She is interning at TBR during her winter break and hopes to advance in the world of journalism and publishing after graduation.