Moana movie voice cast: Auli’i Cravalho, Dwayne Johnson, Rachel House, Temuera Morrison
Moana movie director: Ron Clements, Don Hall, John Musker, Chris Williams
A shortish 16-year-old with pudgy-ish legs, longish skirt and a roundish waist who saves the world. Disney princesses have started coming in forms more than one. But there have been none like Moana.
The story is inspired by a Polynesian legend about a demi-god called Maui. However, the tale is entirely universal, especially for girls, about the dangers of what might lie beyond one’s home. Moana’s team of writers-directors weaves several strands from this skein, about finding one’s true self, about “darkness spreading” as people close doors to the outside world, about the nature of true heroism, and even about the possibility of friendship, so many light years after Kabuliwala, between a girl and a man.
Moana (Auli’i Cravalho) has always been drawn to the sea, partly because of the tales of adventure around it recited by her grandma (a delightful Rachel House) but also because it just laps next to their island. A magical scene also hints that the sea too may be drawn to her, though Moana’s father, the village chief Tui (Temuera Morrison), quickly rules out the possibility of her ever hitting the waters.
In a way now familiar for Disney watchers, Moana does find her way to the sea, helped along by grandma. Her mission is to restore the heart of Te Fiti, the goddess of creation, which was a thousand years ago stolen by Maui, thus bringing misery upon the world. Moana must find Maui, who himself is lost somewhere at sea since the fish hook that gave him magical powers was taken away by a monster, and take him to Te Fiti so that he can return her heart.
Maui, voiced by Johnson, is created in the image of The Rock, a fact that has generated much derision among the Polynesians. It is, in fact, a bit disconcerting at first when Maui is revealed to be a demi-god sold on his own myth of greatness. With great flourish, he signs Moana’s oar, against her protestations, using the beak of her pet chicken and calling it “tweeting”. That’s the lamest joke in the film that otherwise lets situations do the talking. However, Maui grows on you, from the self-growing tattoos on his body telling his life’s tale, to the man bun he casually ties in the midst of a fight.
Most of the film involves Moana convincing Maui to venture on the task despite the fact that he no longer has his powers (and we know how that goes), and the two of them making their way to Te Fiti despite the hurdles, including a crab that loves shiny things.
Where Moana consistently hits the mark is the expanse it allows its heroine — the length and breadth of an ocean — with the film and the future of the world almost entirely resting on her shoulders. She silences one snarky remark from Maui by telling him she is “no princess”, and blossoms when she learns how to sail.
It’s a bit of a cheat that the sea helps her in her mission, but the film cleverly if not convincingly explains it too.
The songs are the most disappointing part of Moana, surprising given the wonderful opportunities on offer. But then you look at that girl, docking her boat, flashing a smile and promising a friend, “See you out there” — and a lot can be forgiven.