Moana, Disney’s new animated feature, is dangerously lovable. No critic wanting to keep his certificate of practice ought to enjoy a film so shouty, lollipop-coloured and ethnic-historically dubious.
“If you wear a dress and have an animal sidekick, then you’re a princess,” the title character of Walt Disney’s 56th animated feature is told.
The latest film from the right Ron Clements and John Musker, directors of Aladdin and The Little Mermaid, could hardly be sounder in its sociological gestures.
It begins on a Polynesian island whose citizens boast about sustainability. Moana, daughter of the chieftain, is more formidable than any man in the community. She is warned that nobody goes beyond the reef, but, when shortages mount, Moana bravely leaps in a boat and ventures in search of magic solutions.
Unfortunately, those ancient patriarchal traditions are part of what make a Princess story into a Princess story. Frozen subverted a few of them from within. Moana feels like something else altogether.
This is not necessarily a bad thing. The picture is relentlessly good-natured and full of valuable lessons. Heihei the idiotic chicken provides the heroine with a satisfactory animal foil. The burly demi-god Maui, Moana’s ultimate companion, radiates the warmth you can manage only if Dwayne Johnson speaks your lines.
For all that, Moana lacks the zest we associate with Disney’s greatest creations. Neither of the main villains (a dull fire-breathing behemoth and a giant crab who sounds like David Bowie) will ever share the same bestiary as Shere Kahn or Cruella de Vil. The backgrounds, though beautiful, are a little too photo-realistic.
However, the movie chugs along with breathtaking animation, adorable interactions between the strong-willed girl and the hilariously self-obsessed demigod, and songs that make you shimmy involuntarily. There’s even a Mad Max: Fury Road-inspired battle scene.
Moana means ‘the ocean’, and as the heroine conquers her namesake, she also conquers your heart. You won’t regret setting sail and voyaging with her.
And here’s the trailer of the movie.