Moana (2016) Movie Review

Moana (Auli’i Cravalho) is a Polynesian islander and daughter of the chief of Motu Nui. Moana is raised on tall tales of legendary heroes and dastardly monsters, the story of demigod Maui (Dwayne Johnson) stealing away the heart of the Mother Island rousing in her the spirit of adventure.


Caught between this adventurous spirit and a call to lead her tribe, a divide between land and sea, Moana ventures out beyond the reef to seek out Maui and save her people.

The operative word in the construction of Moana: Gorgeous.

Nearly every frame yields a composition of immense depth and lush set design. Whether it be the appealing roundness of the human characters of the sparkling liveliness of the land and sea, the visuals are first rate. This alone is enough to engross you in the world of this film.

But it is not merely the looks that are gorgeous in Moana. The music, both diegetic and not, is amazing. Cultivated by Opetaia Foa’i, Mark Mancina, and Hamilton‘s Lin-Manuel Miranda, who deserve kudos if not an Oscar, create songs that feel resoundingly fresh regardless of how many times they are reprised.

The set pieces are striking. While most fit into the narrative as diversions, they do not detract from anything. In conjunction with the visuals, every set piece is electric.

This all said, the narrative of Moana is its weakest suit. The “chosen one” tale is well-worn, though the added intricacies are interesting. The story is rather episodic, a straightforward narrative told in diversions. The switch to this episodic structure after the first act is a bit jarring given the significant and efficient world building that happens up top.

Additionally, the plot convenience of a sentient ocean is trying. But the determination of the title character is enough to propel the movie forward with an effective emotional thrust. In this way, minor nagging issues such as the ocean and a relentlessly slapstick chicken can be ignored.

With Moana, children are given an intelligent story of perseverance. The energy and visual extravagance by which this film functions is inherently compelling. The film is heartfelt, adventurous, stunning, and vibrant. In a word, it is exactly what we have come to expect from the behemoth that is Disney: Great.


Moana: A-


As always, thanks for reading!

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—Alex Brannan (@TheAlexBrannan)


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