“Moana” makes a splash

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Disney has unleashed another animated hit on the world. “Moana” follows the adventures of the titular princess as she travels with the demi-god Maui to restore the heat of the goddess Te Fiti. The film boasts Disney’s first Polynesian princess. “Moana” has received critical praise and financial success currently earning $84 million globally. The film is yet another triumph for the Disney Animation Studio.
Moana (Auli’I Cravalho) is the daughter of the chief of the island of Motunui. Moana wants to explore the ocean, but her father forbids it. But when the islands start to die, Moana discovers the demi-god Maui (Dwayne Johnson) stole the heart of Te Fiti, the goddess of life. Moana sets out to find Maui and convince him to help her to restore Te Fiti and the world. Maui is armed with a magical fish hook that allows him to shapeshift into different animals.  The story is reminiscent of classical mythology. The pair travel with a destination in mind and they happen to run into monsters and villains along the way.
The interplay between Moana and Maui is fun and refreshingly lacking in romance. On the journey, they are joined by Moana’s pet chicken Heihei and the ocean itself. The film makes the ocean into a character and it works. The ocean acts as a guide to the adventuring duo and has some of the bests bits of physical comedy. Johnson is perfect as the brash demi-god. His voice encompasses all the charm and ego that is Maui. Cravalho is great as the young and eager Moana. She finds the perfect balance between confidence and uncertainty that the character calls for.
Maui is an actual demi-god in many Polynesian cultures and the film does reference some of the stories that surround Maui.
The film is directed by Disney veterans Ron Clements and John Musker. They have directed “The Great Mouse Detective,” “The Little Mermaid,” “Aladdin,” “Hercules,” “Treasure Planet” and “The Princess and the Frog.”
This is their first computer animated movie but you wouldn’t have known it. The animation is gorgeous. The colors pop with life. The Pacific Ocean and the islands look breathtaking. This movie also has some of the best hair animation in a movie in a while. They wet hair looks like actual wet hair. The water animation is fast and fluid. It helps makes the ocean feel like an actual character.   
The songs were written by Opetaia Foa’I, Mark Mancina and Lin-Manuel Miranda. Miranda wrote the Pulitzer prize winning musical “Hamilton.” The songs are fun and catchy and are infused with a Polynesian feel. Johnson is a surprisingly good singer, with his song “You’re Welcome” being a highlight in the film. Cravalho is an amazing singer. Her voice brings the music to life.
The film lacks the emotional impact of Disney Animation Studio’s more recent outings like this year’s “Zootopia” or 2013 “Frozen,” but is still a great story about discovering yourself and your cultural heritage. “Moana” is an amazing film that’s great for the whole family.