Disney’s “Moana” may be the best movie of 2016, and continues the string of excellent movies in theaters this fall, as if this season is making up for the all-around garbage year we’ve had so far.
Are we ready to accept that Disney is pretty much the apex predator of the entertainment industry? Of the slim pickings of good movies we’ve had this year, Disney has consistently delivered excellent movie after excellent movie, and “Moana” will surely continue to pull in the crowds and their cash with offerings such as “Captain America,” “Finding Dory,” “Zooptopia,” “The Jungle Book” and “Pete’s Dragon” — and surely with the approaching “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.”
But “Moana” deserves the attention the most out of all of those. “Pete’s Dragon” and “Captain America: Civil War” are arguably two of the best movies this year, but they still aren’t as good as “Moana.” It’s nearly perfect, from the classic adventure story to wonderful characters and an unbelievably great soundtrack. By the way, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, who voices Maui, can apparently sing. Huh.
Starting with the titular character, Moana (voiced by Auli’i Cravalho) is the daughter of a chief on a small Polynesian island. Full of heart and wanderlust that take a back seat only to her determination and courage, the character of Moana is just an all-around great person, impossible for anyone not to adore. She’s the ultimate anti-princess, but is easily one of the best “Disney Princesses” created. Anna and Elsa may lose some significant popularity in the coming months.
Destined to become the village chief, her desire to wander and explore the ocean captures her heart, as at an early age she discovers she has a magical bond with the sea.
When it comes time for her to begin her rule, the island’s crops go bad and the fish leave. Although her father forbids her from leaving the safety of the island, circumstances involving crucial, spoiler-y plot points force her to seek out the mythical demigod, Maui.
Brilliantly voiced by Johnson, the movie’s portrayal pays wonderful respects to the various Polynesian myths of Maui. While some Polynesian myths depict Maui as a sort of Superman, others depict him as a bit of a roguish trickster. Johnson’s Maui is a cross between the two — large in life and ego, and the extensive research the Disney “imagineers” did on Polynesian myth and culture show. He also has one of the best musical numbers in the movie, “You’re Welcome,” which you’ll have stuck in your head along with one of the movie’s other great songs. More on that later.
There’s plenty of reason for Maui’s cockiness and self-absorption. He has god-like strength and contributed to the creation of the natural world as we know it — the sun, the sky. Much to his reluctance to help and his repeated attempts to ditch her, Maui joins Moana on her journey to save her island, and we find out exactly what makes him tick — and that the man lives up to the legend.
But what is great is that Maui never outshines Moana. In a less-modern version of this movie, he would be a lead character in the grand adventure. What Maui lacks in selflessness, Moana makes up for along with her unwavering determination.
This is a fantastic storytelling technique — taking a legendary character and making them a supporting role — amplifying the “legendary” perspective about them by seeing them from an outside point of view. At the same time, this allows the main character, in this case Moana, the spotlight of the story and the room of depth she needs for the audience to become attached to her, even though her story is interwoven with the legend of Maui.
There are so many more great things about the movie, and there is simply not enough room to talk about it. The visuals are spectacular and so vibrant, beautiful, and lush that it would be almost enough to make the movie interesting by themselves.
But the movie earns its last perfect score by an incredible soundtrack that is worth a purchase itself.
Along with Dwayne Johnson’s “You’re Welcome,” “Shiny” by Jermaine Clement is weird and funky, with similar visuals onscreen to boot. And “How Far I’ll Go,” sung by Cravalho is the new “Let it Go.” If it doesn’t become as big of a hit, it will be a surprise. Lin-Manuel Miranda of “Hamilton” fame, as well as Opetaia Foa’i and Mark Mancina, wrote the fantastic soundtrack.
Needless to say, Moana is a fantastic role model and feminist icon for girls, and that is just one of many reasons you should go see it with your family. It’s a legend that everyone will love for so many reasons — see everything above — and is easily one of the top five movies to come out this year.
“Moana” is currently playing at the Riverside Cinemas, 1017 S. Boone St. in Aberdeen.
George Haerle is a 2008 graduate of Aberdeen High and holds a bachelor’s degree in creative writing for media and lives in Cosmopolis.