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Mario Bautista, has been with the entertainment industry for more than 4 decades. He writes regular columns for People's Journal and Malaya.

Dec 10, 2016

Moana Movie Review: Spectacular Visuals, Colorful Characterism, Great Tunes In A Fun Film For The Whole Family

THE BIGGEST EARNERS among animated films this year all feature animal lead characters, like “Finding Dory”, “Secret Life of Pets” and “Zootopia”. We now have one that features a human character, “Moana”, which is an animated musical that harks back to past animated films like “The Little Mermaid” (which produced “Part of Your World”), “Beauty and the Beast” (many memorable songs), “Aladdin” (“A Whole New World”), “Mulan” (“Reflection”) and “Pocahontas” (“All the Colors of the Wind”).

The songs in “Moana” are written by Lin Manuel Miranda, who wrote the current award-winning Broadway hit, “Hamilton”, and he has written some good songs here, particularly Moana’s catchy theme tune, “How Far I’ll Go”. The movie is directed by Ron Clements and John Musker, who also did “Little Mermaid” and “Aladdin”, and they use the same elements of having a young heroine with cute animal sidekicks who also sing. But whereas they use hand drawn animation before, they now make use of CGI (computer generated imagery), to great advantage.

The nice thing about the film is you can really identify with and root for the lead character. “Moana” is a child of a tribe in her native Hawaii, the daughter of the chief, Tui (voice by Maori actor Temeura Morrison) and his wife Sina (Nicole Scherzinger.) Moana is warned not to go beyond the reef that surrounds their island as the island already gives them what they need.

But when she grows up to be 16-years old (voice by Auli’i Cravalho), Moana turns out to be not the usual damsel in distress. She’s bothered by the diminishing fish stocks in their seas and the dying coconut trees and she felt she has to do something about it. Her grandma Tala tells her the story of the demi-god Maui, who stole a magic heart stone from an island goddess, Te Fiti, making their island doomed. Her grandma says they belong to a tribe of great voyagers who sail across the oceans but they’ve stopped their wandering when they settled down in their idyllic island.

The plucky Moana now decides to sail beyond the reef to find Maui and get back the stolen stone so she can return it to the goddess who truly owns it and save her people. After locating Maui (voice by The Rock, Dwayne Johnson), they next have to get back his magical fish hook, which is now guarded in the realm of monsters by a giant crab-like creature, Tamatoa, who like glittering things and sings the song “Shiny”, as catchy as “Be Our Guest” from “Beauty & the Beast”. As an action adventure movie, Moana succeeds in blazing her own trail and forging her own identity as a wayfinder or explorer, starting with the song “You’re Welcome”.

Unlike other animated films about Disney princesses which have a romantic element, this one has only a platonic relationship between Moana and Maui who is more just like a Kuya. Maybe they’re saying that a Disney princess doesn’t always need a prince to complete her life, as Moana doesn’t even to be called a princess. Auli’l Cravalho, a real Hawaiian native who’s discovered in this movie, has an impressive voice whether she’s talking or singing as Moana.

The Rock’s Maui is more or less based on his real life image and the tattoos on Maui’s body provide so much fun when they come to life and make their own hilarious comments. A scene stealer here is Hei Hei (Alan Tudyk), a dumb cross-eyed rooster who provides lots of comic relief.

All in all, “Moana”, with its spectacular visuals (we like the pirate evil coconuts), colorful characters and fresh tunes, is as enjoyable as “Frozen” and “Inside Out” which both won Oscars. We thought it’s “Finding Dory” that would win this year, but along came the girl-empowering “Moana” just before 2016 is over and it will delight viewers of all ages and make your imagination soar across the high seas.