“Go!” says Gramma Tala (voice of Rachel House). “I can’t,” says Moana (voice of Auli’I Cravalho). “You must,” Gramma says. “The ocean calls you. Find Maui and restore the heart of our people.” Then, more insistently, Gramma says, again, “Go!” That’s the setup for this Disney, animated “princess” feature.
Will Moana defy her father (voice of Temuera Morrison) and sail beyond the reef that surrounds their Oceanic island? Does Maui (voice of Dwayne Johnson), trickster demi-god, help — or hinder — Moana on her quest? Can you resist the many pleasures in this Disney treat? I couldn’t. See it soon.
Sixteen-year-old Auli’I Cravalho and Dwayne Johnson are vocal stars of “Moana,” and star-turns — dialog and songs — they deliver with plenty of panache. On an outrigger on the open sea, they’re an odd couple: she, 16-years old, a spunky, no-nonsense princess, accompanied only by ditzy rooster Hei Hei (clucky voice of Alan Tudyk), and he, “Maui,” as he says, “demi-god of wind and sea, hero to all — men and women,” a shape-shifter, outsized in both ego and body. Moana is not impressed. “You used to be a hero,” she says to Maui, “but now you’re just a trickster who cursed our world; you’re not a hero.” Can they work together?
Others in the excellent vocal cast include mellow-voiced Rachel House as Moana’s grandmother — the village crazy lady, as she says — who teaches Moana to follow her heart, to discover she’s a “wayfinder” like her seafaring ancestors. Temuera Morrison, Chief Tui of the island Motunui, teaches a contrary lesson: “No one ever goes beyond the reef, or we endanger all our people.” Jemaine Clement is the voice of Tamatoa, enormous, vain, treasure-hoarding crab at the bottom of the Well of Monsters, one of many dangers Moana meets on her quest.
“Moana” is one more success in Disney’s “princess” franchise, even when Moana herself says, “But I’m not a princess.” Maui has a nice inside joke in Jared Bush’s script. “If you wear a dress,” says Maui to Moana, “and have an animal friend, you’re a princess.” Critic James Beradinelli agrees. “Moana,” he writes, “is retro Disney.” In fact, “Little Mermaid” (1989) co-directors and writers, Ron Clements and John Musker, direct “Moana” and, as you would suppose, get it right. Songs by Lin-Manuel Miranda and colleagues are also right, as are voice-cast deliveries, especially Johnson’s hip-hop inspired, “You’re Welcome.”
Rated PG for peril, scary images and thematic elements, “Moana” runs 103 minutes, a bit long in setting up the story but, overall, lots of fun for older kids and family. Stay through the credits for another inside joke referencing — what else? — “The Little Mermaid.”
“Moana’s” on a quest
To save her father’s island;
See one of Disney’s best.