"Moana" misses Disney Magic

Disney’s next animated hit, Moana, has finally hit theaters. This is a movie that’s been hotly anticipated by many, and I was excited to see how the studio would follow up their earlier hit from this year, Zootopia. Unfortunately, while Moana is a perfectly fun adventure film with wonderful animation, it fails to truly live up to the high expectations set by the Disney movies of the past.
Moana’s biggest asset is its gorgeous animation style. This might be the best looking CG- animated film Disney has ever produced. The landscapes of the Polynesian islands are beautifully rendered and filled with vibrant colors. Character designs hit a sweet-spot between cartoonish and grounded. The best aspect of Moana’s visual design is the amazing look of the ocean. Never before has water been rendered so realistically in an animated feature. Visually, Moana is stunning.
Another highlight of the film is the voice acting. Auli’i Cravalho stars as the title character and main protagonist. Cravalho brings plenty of strength and personality to Moana, while still providing just enough vulnerability and charm to keep her relatable. In general, I was surprised how wonderful Moana was as a character. She is very self-determined, but never to the point of arrogance. Her decisions are the driving force of the story. Moana is definitely one of Disney’s best female protagonists.
The other star of the film is Dwayne Johnson as Maui, a demigod forced to accompany Moana on her quest. Johnson is a talented actor who can expertly walk the line between obnoxious and lovable. Maui certainly fits this particular bill. He serves as both comic relief and an important character. Johnson and Cravalho share excellent comedic chemistry, and their interactions make for some of the film’s most entertaining moments.
Despite the strength of the cast, the actual story of Moana falls flat. The film is extremely formulaic. Anyone who has ever seen a fantasy adventure movie with a coming-of-age moral will easily predict nearly every plot point. Aside from an actually clever twist involving the villain, I was able to guess exactly where the story was going from the first scene. It’s very difficult to get invested in the plot when there’s no real feeling of suspense. As a result, I found myself bored for much of the running time. Others may not mind the cliché storyline, but it distracted me quite a bit.
The music of Moana is also a disappointment. Lin-Manuel Miranda of “Hamilton” is the main writer of the songs, and he doesn’t bring much originality. That’s not to say that the songs are necessarily bad, but they don’t stand out much from other animated musicals. I kept waiting for a big showstopper on the level of “Let it Go” from Frozen, but such a song never came.
Moana isn’t a bad movie. In fact, compared to a lot of other animated films, it’s actually quite good. But when Disney’s previous films of the last few years include Zootopia and Frozen, it’s hard not to be disappointed by Moana’s lack of ambition. This movie is a fun way to kill some time, but I wouldn’t go out of my way to see it again. If you’re a Disney fan, I would recommend giving Moana a shot, but you should probably keep your expectations lowered.