Directed by John Musker and Ron Clements
Written by Jared Bush, Ron Clements, John Musker, Chris Williams, Don Hall, Pamela Ribon, Aaron Kandel and Jordan Kandell
Starring: Auli’i Cravalho, Dwayne Johnson, Rachel House, Temuera Morrison, Jemaine Clement, Nicole Scherzinger and Alan Tudyk
With their 56th animated feature film “Moana,” Walt Disney proves that they are still a force to be reckoned with in the world of animation (including against their Pixar label) and that Walt Disney Feature Animation is in the midst of a second renaissance. Which leads me to wonder if it is a coincidence that Musker and Clements – who were essential to the first renaissance period – directed this movie?
Like many of the features produced by Walt Disney Feature Animation “Moana” is wonderfully animated. The colors are rich and vibrant, and all of the water stuff is gorgeous. Apparently, Musker and Clements have picked up a thing or two from Pixar, as “Moana” is their first film that contains no traditional animation. Which makes me sad, because I like watching cartoons. Watching CG animation just does not feel the same, and is not in my mind a “cartoon.” Frankly, the death of traditional animation has made Disney and Pixar films virtually indistinguishable. The ever-blurring line between Walt Disney Feature Animation and Pixar aside, that does not mean that Disney is slacking off in the animation department. The movie is a stunning work of animation.
One of the hallmarks of the Disney animated movies is that they are musicals, usually containing some great music, and “Moana” is no exception to this. The music in the film, written by Mark Mancia, Opetaia Foa’I and Lin-Manuel Miranda, is phenomenal. The songs well written, contain great melodies and beautiful arrangements and some songs even provide a sharp wit. The song “You’re Welcome” deserves particular note, as it is a funny and catchy tune. The sequence that went with it reminded me of “A Friend Like Me” from “Aladdin,” not surprising considering that Musker and Clements also directed that movie. – I wonder if that was intentional? While the songs in “Moana” may not be as memorable as “Let It Go,” I would say that as a whole, the songs were stronger than the ones in “Frozen” because the weakest song in “Moana” is better than the weakest songs in “Frozen.”
What makes this film work is the chemistry between Auli’i Cravalho — what a find — and Dwayne Johnson (The Rock). Cravalho and Johnson were probably never in the same room when they recorded their dialog for the movie, but they play off each other as if they were standing right next to one another. It was actually inspired casting on Disney’s part. Johnson gets an opportunity to flex his comedic and musical muscles, and wow, they are huge. Almost as huge as his actual muscles.
“Moana” is arguably the best-animated film of the year – there are strong arguments you can make for “Kubo and the Two Strings” – and it is one of the best movies of the year. See it, it is a film the whole family can enjoy.