dir John Musker, Ron Clements
scr Jared Bush
prd Osnat Shurer
voices Auli'i Cravalho, Dwayne Johnson, Rachel House, Temuera Morrison, Nicole Scherzinger, Jemaine Clement, Alan Tudyk, Louise Bush, Christopher Jackson, Oscar Kightley, Troy Polamalu, Puanani Cravalho
release US 23.Nov.16, UK 2.Dec.16
16/US Disney 1h53
Way-finders: Maui and Moana

johnson morrison scherzinger
Showing with:
Inner Workings (short)
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
Moana Inventive animated touches make this film worth a look, despite its rather simplistic plot and characters. The Oceania setting gives the animators plenty of textures to work with, and some witty imagery to help keep the story and characters engaging, even if there isn't a moment of genuine tension along the way.

Moana (Cravalho) has grown up as the daughter of the chief (Morrison) on her idyllic South Pacific island, cut off from the world because of the community's fear of the ocean. But her mother (Scherzinger) and grandmother (House) encourage her to follow her heart's desire to explore the sea. She then learns that she's destined to find exiled demigod Maui (Johnson) and return the Heart of Te Fiti, which he stole, bringing death to the islands. So off Moana goes, and when she teams up with Maui, her quest seems to become even more impossible.

Disney's animators have a great time with the tropical setting, playing gleefully with water and sand, although they come up with a very odd visual rendition of the spirit of the ocean as a watery tongue. Still, the contrast is gorgeous between deep blues, lush greens and fiery reds. The characters also have a terrific physicality to them, with relatively appropriate body shapes. And in the coolest touch, Maui's animated tattoos become the film's most likeable sidekick (Moana's brainless chicken is the less endearing one).

Moana is a vivid central character, with a sharp personality, and a nice mix of passion, skill and impetuousness. She may look a bit too pretty, but Cravalho voices her with gritty energy. And her songs soar enjoyably: they're catchy if not particularly memorable. Johnson has even more fun as the relentlessly self-absorbed demigod who shamelessly steals every scene. And House brings some wizened sarcasm as Gramma. Other side characters add colour without stealing focus.

The film has a strong sense of its mythology, as Moana finds herself in the middle of a legend she has known since childhood. This allows the story to include several fantastical elements, including the proactive ocean and a scary threat in a towering lava monster. On the other hand, the story feels so comfortably set within the Disney universe that there's never any doubt about where it's headed. So every setback is clearly just a plot ruse. And every song is another tug on the heartstrings. This makes it very easy to watch, even if it's actually thin and forgettable.

cert pg themes, violence 20.Nov.16

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© 2016 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall