Disney’s “Moana” is a step forward. Initially, the idea of a Polynesian princess flick that fumbles around with depicting mythology and ethnic principles was a red flag for many — however, as always, Disney prevailed by taking precautionary steps to not only respect culture, but imbue a sense of preservation. This film champions the importance of knowing where you come from and exceeding people’s expectations.
It’s a step forward, not because it hurdles adversity and skepticism, but because of its ability to redefine the generic Disney princess story, ushering in a new era for strong women and young girls. While our title character, Moana, is in fact a princess by definition, she’ll be the first to remind you that her destiny doesn’t fit the mold. The young Polynesian girl, who is heir to the throne of an island of people, is motivated by the endless possibilities that the ocean around her presents. Distancing herself from the arbitrary need for love and romance that captivated her predecessors, Moana’s heart instead lies with her love for her family, her people and the sea.
With romance in the rearview, Moana’s story unfolds. Paired with the lovable, yet pretentious, demi-god Maui (Dwayne Johnson), our titular lead embarks on the journey of a lifetime to return her nation’s land to fruition. Along the way we’re greeted with what may be Disney’s most alluring visuals to date. The consistent aesthetic throughout is an essential element of the film’s dedication to honoring the culture in which it crafts and inhabits. The film’s final moments are simply breathtaking and regardless of the attention you pay to the film’s strong cast of characters, the technical achievement here is worth your deliberation.
Music is a defining element of all great Disney animated features, with the songs of some of our favorite films lasting much longer than the messages found within each film or scene. In “Moana,” this rings true more than ever. Disney is known for its dedication to crafting memorable sing-alongs, often contracting some of music’s biggest names to do the leg work. This time around, Disney has brought on “Hamilton” creator, Lin-Manuel Maranda, and the Broadway rhyme-smith lives up to the expectation. The past year has been an immensely successful year for the artist and “Moana” is a foretelling sign that more magic is yet to come from Maranda in coming years as he continues to flex his abilities into the mainstream. “How Far I’ll Go” will likely be the new “Let it Go,” while “You’re Welcome” is reminiscent of Aladdin’s “Friend Like Me.”
Simply put, “Moana” is a journey worth taking that redefines the role of princesses for generations to come. The empowering story is an achievement in itself, but the film’s impressive visuals and memorable soundtrack catapult it to the top. While it’s worth the debate, “Moana” is poised to take its place on the mantle alongside Disney’s greatest.