By Joanna Cosgrove
Personally, I had been waiting a long time – a long long time – to see Moana since I first heard of it being announced. It just felt like it was going to be an adventure differing from previous ones we had seen from Disney and its vast collection of heroines. It was different. A good different. An exciting different.
There is so much to try and condense down into a review, but it all needs covering. First of all: “I’m not a princess!”
Moana is a large, strong leap from the Disney princesses of the 1950s, who were created to fulfil the “damsel in distress” stereotype that sadly, many grew up with. With Moana’s constant correction to Maui, who calls her a princess repeatedly as an undermine of her abilities, by stating “I’m not a princess, I’m the chief’s daughter”, it brings a new sense of character to the leading female. She isn’t rich, she isn’t entitled, she doesn’t have it all handed to her; she refuses to have her work done for her and her dreams crushed for what’s expected of her. I personally felt deeply inspired by Moana’s character – imagine what many other young girls must feel after seeing what is possibly the best animated example for them on the big screen.
Let’s continue with the cultural background of the story, because this is where we all must feel our proudest.
As we all are too aware of, Hollywood has a thing about celebrating minority cultures. They don’t do it – and if they do, it involves white people who are lying right to our faces about it. Moana, however, does it all right. Most importantly, the voice behind the lead character is Auli’i Cravalho. She is a young, Hawaiian-born actress who auditioned for the role despite feeling like she would never be chosen – and look what happened!
Cravalho has a rich ancestry, being of Chinese, Puerto Rican and Portuguese descent, to list a few. Having an individual like her, who portrays the character more closely than possibly any other girl who auditioned, is going to make girls and women of colour grow up with hope and confidence in their talents and skills. “Representation matters”, as they say, and I believe it.
But Cravalho and the cast aside, the story of Moana of Motunui is one which believe me, many would not have expected to be told in a film. To my knowledge, I had never known a film with such a high backing as Moana had from Disney that was telling a story based on Polynesian mythology. It proves that every corner of the globe has a culture with stories that are worth sharing. It could inspire young movie-goers to seek out and learn more about the mythological figures of various cultures. I know I’m very intrigued to learn more. Best yet, you can tell the culture was greatly researched beforehand; those working on the movie took research trips to islands such as Fiji and Tahiti, and conversed with those who were native to the South Pacific about their culture; they didn’t want to get a single detail out of place, which makes me very proud. They were careful of their content, and wanted to honour the culture wholeheartedly. This is what all movies should aim for: do your research!
Let’s move to the music, because we all know Disney loves their tunes in their movies. Moana, of course, was no exception.
We have all sort of grown bored of the cheesy, overplayed songs of Disney hits (Let It Go, anyone?), but I felt differently about the ones in this movie. Every song was heartfelt, and used elements of music styles you would find from musicians of that culture.
Special thank you to music genius Lin-Manuel Miranda for his major involvement in this movie’s score. As a great music (and Hamilton) enthusiast, I was ecstatic when I learnt that Miranda was lending his skills and his vocals to these songs – it just made me more impatient to see it – and let me say, I was not at all disappointed. The songs were well-placed, served their emotional or humorous purposes (thanks for the laughs, Dwayne Johnson), and just well done, Disney. These are songs I would love to hear over and over again.
Finally, and I wouldn’t always comment on the animation and the look of the film, but I had to. The rich use of colours, and every fine detail took my breath away.
The movie focuses on nature and preserving what the Earth has given us, and never trying to tamper with it, no matter the intentions you had behind it. The stunning aesthetics on the big screen were blinding, but in a beautiful artistic way. I had never seen clearer how gorgeous nature truly is away from real life, but Disney did it in Moana. It drives home to themes of nature, spirituality, and in general, living life how you wish.
I really recommend seeing this movie, if you hadn’t already. Well, if you have already too. I know I wanna see it again!
Well done, Disney. Keep doing us and our little girls proud.