Moana’ rides beautiful wave to box office success

By Ivan Mateo

Disney’s previous formula for movies tended to be about a princess waiting and waiting until she is finally saved and ends up marrying her Prince Charming and living happily ever after.

Moana joins Disney’s new movement to craft proactive, independent characters such as “Frozen’s” Elsa, “Brave’s” Merida and “Zootopia’s” Judy Hopps, who focus on their independent journeys rather than someone else’s.

The titular character, Moana Waialiki (Auli’i Cravalho), is the daughter of the village chief of Motunui, Chief Tui Waialiki (Temuera Morrison). He genuinely cares for his people and especially his family. He wants what is best for them, but can be overprotective.

The family includes Sina Waialiki (Nicole Scherzinger), Moana’s mother and Tui’s wife, and Gramma Tala (Rachel House), Moana’s grandmother. Like Moana, Tala shares a passion for the ocean.

Every scene with Gramma Tala hits audiences hard emotionally because Moana and her grandmother share such a powerful bond.

Being the daughter of the chief of the village, Moana has always had an abundance of expectations thrust upon her shoulders. Moana is strong, smart and responsible, but ever since she was a little girl she has had a curious calling for adventure.

She often wonders what lies beyond the reef because one of the main guidelines of the village is to never go farther than the reef. She has always had a calling for something bigger, something larger than herself – a destiny of sorts.

When the island of Motonui begins to experience unexplainable problems, Moana takes this as her opportunity and knows what to do.

Moana must find Maui (Dwayne Johnson), the legendary demigod, to help him return a pounamu stone (which he stole previously), the heart of Te Fiti, to the island goddess that created the islands.

An enormous lava monster called Te Ka defeated Maui before, but can he overcome Te Ka with Moana’s help?

Co-starring alongside Cravalho is the always enthusiastic Johnson, who stars in just about everything Hollywood releases nowadays.

Johnson is as charismatic as ever with perfect timing on his comical delivery and mannerisms.

The artistic design of Maui’s tattoos is both creative and clever. Tattoos often tell a story or have a special meaning for people, especially for Pacific Islanders. When Maui’s tattoos come to life, they show and provide the trials and tribulations he has experienced throughout his long life.

When Moana and Maui visit Lalotai, the realm of monsters, they encounter Tamatoa (Jemaine Clement), a giant villainous coconut crab who loves shiny objects as much as singing.

Coming along for the journey is Heihei (Alan Tudyk), Moana’s lovable pet rooster, described by director Ron Clements as “the dumbest character in the history of Disney animation.”

There is something vicarious and vital to be said about seeing characters that bare a resemblance to yourself as a viewer. Like Disney’s “Mulan” or “The Princess and the Frog,” “Moana” helps us see the differences we all have, but highlights that we all have different journeys to lead.

Not every audience member can relate to a Snow White or Belle. People come in all shapes and colors, so seeing a protagonist in a Disney film who looks like Moana, Tiana or Mulan helps us embrace ourselves.

This proves noteworthy and relative to current events in today’s society because Hollywood fights an ongoing battle of whitewashing Asian characters. Examples of this include Emma Stone in “Aloha,” Matt Damon in “Great Wall” and Tilda Swinton in “Dr. Strange.”

The songs are written and composed by Opetaia Foa’i, Mark Mancina and Lin-Manuel Miranda of “Hamilton” fame. “Where You Are,” “How Far I’ll Go” and “You’re Welcome” are some of the many standout songs audiences will find themselves singing, sharing laughs and ultimately enjoying.

The visuals are absolutely stunning with the translucent blue waters of the ocean and variety of the creatures encountered on the journey. The islands and its inhabitants literally come to life through Disney animation.

Disney has recently began to turn over a new leaf for their female protagonists by subverting the old Disney formula. Gone are the days of passivity where the girl has to be a princess or her happy ending is infinitely tied to marrying a prince.

If you combine Johnson and all his charisma with the musical talent of Miranda, while mixing in an introduction to the acting and singing talents of Cravalho, then this film definitely contains a recipe for success.

Behind a renewed focus on proactive heroines, beautiful animation and a story centered on the relationships we form, “Moana” will be a box office hit for weekends to come.

“Moana” is rated PG for peril, some scary images and brief thematic elements.

“Moana” is playing in theaters now.

Courtesy of Disney

‘Moana’ movie poster

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