‘Moana’ warms up winter audiences

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Image courtesy of Disney Pictures

“Moana” is Disney’s 56th animated feature film. While the studio has had brief stints of diminished quality, its animated films tend to be quite good. 2016 found Disney releasing both “Zootopia” and “Moana,” proving that the studio has still got what it takes to make beautiful and heartwarming stories with infectiously loveable music.

the demigod Maui (Dwayne Johnson) steals the heart of Te Fiti and then loses it to the ocean, he brings a curse upon the innocent people of Motunui and its surrounding islands. The ocean then bestows young Moana (Auli’I Cravalho) with the heart and tasks her with finding Maui and restoring the heart to its rightful home.

There’s a charm to “Moana” that makes it so infectiously loveable and that charm is certainly in its music. The soundtrack fuses music from all around the world adding up to beautiful and witty songs that rival some of the best music in the Disney canon. The witty and well-crafted lyrics likely comes from Lin-Manuel Miranda’s involvement with the music. Songs like “You’re Welcome,” “Shiny” and “Where You Are,” exude lyrical and harmonious beauty that rivals some of the best Disney music out there. Not to mention the amazing score from Mark Mancina and Opetaia Foa’i also providing his musical brilliance. Mixing in familiar sounds as well the native language of the Pacific Isles adds a stamp of cultural brilliance to the music. “Moana” embraces its musical roots in a way that Disney movies haven’t done since “Princess and the Frog.” It not only envelopes its film with music that matches the culture and time period of its story, but also provides a vibrant beauty and love of music that makes each musical moment an absolute pleasure to watch.

The visuals of the film are astounding. The water is animated beautifully and the character model’s movements are fluid and lifelike. The detail of the film is meticulous and its colors are bright and joyous. It’s animation at a whole different level, one where the environments look almost real. Eric Goldberg’s work on the hand-drawn animation of Maui’s tattoos should be praised individually as well. The film does a great job of mixing both hand-drawn 2D and computer-generated 3D animation to near-perfect effect, every frame bleeds with stunning visuals.

The only caveat is that the film’s story is a little formulaic. Its story follows a similar plot structure to many other Disney films, and its themes of finding your true self are also very familiar to Disney films. Although, the movie also introduces concepts of trying to see past the surface of other people, with characters like Maui and the film’s villains being more than just their outward appearances and first impressions. It’s a nuanced interpretation that many Disney movies fail to utilize when examining certain characters in their stories.

Even with an occasionally formulaic approach, “Moana” is still an absolute treat to watch. With beautiful music, amazing visuals, funny characters with nuanced personalities and great action this movie is absolutely a must-see, and one that will surely go down as one of the best Disney movies to date.

Rating: 4.5/5