Might contain spoilers.
I cannot adequately express how I love this beautiful, funny, moving, and stirring film. It’s hard to believe I’d only seen it once (when it released). The music is Lin-Manuel Miranda’s best so far: its inclusion of the Samoan and Tokelauan languages is lovely, and the yearning embodied by the plaintive, repeated melody of ‘How Far I’ll Go’ is endlessly resonant. The style and fidelity of the visuals are wonderful: the water, the ocean’s appendages, Tamatoa. The ocean the film is built around might still be the best animated water I’ve seen. This is a timeless story, too, that doesn’t truck in references and studiously avoids any relationship to the modern world, despite the contemporary style of humour.
This is a tale steeped in wonder, with precise control over its tone. Moana is impelled to set sail. Grandma Tala doesn’t silently pass from the world; the lights go out with a whoosh and her spirit zooms off as a ray. Te Fiti awakens and says everything with just her smile. Tamatoa’s cave and the monsters around it display truly fantastical designs. Maui’s tattoos don’t just look good, they move. Moana discovering her ancestors in the cave gives me goosebumps. And, of course, the climax thrills and awes, with Moana walking across the parted sea towards the obscured Te Fiti as the chorus sings the haunting melody and she responds in English.
The performances are uniformly excellent. Auli’i Cravalho ably anchors the entire story. Jemaine Clement is a one-scene wonder. Rachel House makes a lovable and charming grandmother. Temuera Morrison brings depth and humanity to Chief Tui.
I’ve been a longtime fan of The Rock and I consider this his best performance to date. Maui has the face and air of an overgrown child, yet is entirely himself, fiercely proud of his heritage, and endlessly capable. It’s heartwarming to see him sprout a tattoo of Moana in the end.
The Kakamora sequence had me in splits. Heihei is absurdly hilarious; I couldn’t stop laughing at the ocean picking him up, putting him in the basket, closing the lid, putting the basket in the hold, and slamming it shut. It’s a shame the pig is left behind.
Of Disney’s subsequent animated efforts, only Raya and the Last Dragon comes close. Ralph Breaks the Internet is a competent sequel to a tolerable film. I couldn’t be bothered watching Frozen II , since I found the first one nice but overrated. Encanto is painfully superficial. I really like Zootopia , which came out earlier the same year, but Moana blows it out of the water (pardon the pun).
Going backwards only reinforces what rarefied company Moana is in. As much as I enjoy and like Tangled , Bolt , and Big Hero 6 , I have to go all the way back to 2007’s Meet The Robinsons to find something I adore as much as I do Moana.
Even Pixar’s later films don’t offer much competition. I am loath to criticize it, but the charming, beautiful, and lovely Luca is a very slight film in comparison. Soul is a good, thoughtful, well-made film with confused thoughts. Incredibles 2 is half a good film. Coco is nice but not nearly as good as everyone would have you believe. The Good Dinosaur is outright bad. It’s only Inside Out that has a similar, though not equal, level of quality. Going further back, I’d say Brave is a good film but only 2010’s Toy Story 3 reaches the same heights.
One thing jarring note in a nearly perfect film is when the ocean bolsters Moana’s confidence by
showing her her ancestors and bringing her grandmother to talk to her, culminating in her singing…
I am Moanaaaaaaaa. I also find it hard to stomach the musical theatre–esque ever-changing
melodies and themes: I would much prefer the songs to continue as they are for a while instead of
immediately abandoning their melodies and themes. In addition, while Lin-Manuel Miranda has a nice
voice, he always sings in exactly the same style, so I prefer his compositions with other voices.