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"Moana" In Review

By Tsivia Chonoles
On November 30, 2016

“Moana” is a colorful, musical, emotional celebration of Polynesian culture.
Image Courtesy of

For those who haven’t noticed, Walt Disney Studios released its newest animated feature film last Wednesday, November 23. As per usual with my movie reviews, reader beware: spoilers may wait within.

    I had been waiting for this movie since it was announced. At first I was unsure as to how I might like it; Disney’s animated films are not traditionally what one might call culturally diverse and the idea of them taking on the representation of essentially an entire culture in one animated film was worrisome.

    And then I saw the first concept art when it was released. And I fell in love. Here was Moana; a young woman who actually looks like a young woman, and who stands straight and tall and confident.

    The cast was announced, and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s excitement about being a part of a project that was aimed at celebrating his culture was infectious. When I learned that Lin-Manuel Miranda - of Hamilton fame - was going to be working on the music for the film, my excitement intensified.

    So I am happy to say that, upon watching the movie in the theater, I was not disappointed. My expectations were met and exceeded and I found myself in tears at several points during the viewing.

    Right off the bat we are introduced to baby Moana, who is excited by frightening stories of her peoples’ history and mythology and who loves the ocean. We are introduced to a little girl who, even as a toddler, understands the importance of all life and the importance of overcoming your own challenges in life as she helps a newly-hatched turtle make the journey from nest to ocean without laying hands on it.

    We see Moana grow up, longing for the sea while being told all the while that her place is only on the island where she was raised. The film is a coming-of-age story. We get to watch as Moana journeys across the ocean, first to find the demigod Maui - voiced by The Rock - then to the Realm of Monsters to retrieve Maui’s giant fish hook from Tamatoa, before finally sailing on to find Te Fiti and return her heart - thus saving the ocean and the world.

    The music was absolutely moving. The score - written by Mark Mancina - was at times uplifting, heartbreaking, and inspiring. Miranda’s contribution was obvious from the very first musical number, the lyrical stylings and rhythms invoking emotion and bringing a new life to the idea of a Disney animated musical.

    Beautiful and inspiring, we are shown a young woman of color, shown her insecurities and her fight against them, and shown her growing self-confidence and feeling of strength and worth as she becomes a hero on her own terms. She does not wait around for Maui to decide on his own that he needs to do the right thing.

    Despite the beautiful cultural representation and the inspiring story that was told, Disney is Disney. Their goal with any movie is to build marketable, merchandise-able characters. Which they managed, while also respecting the culture and people whose stories, histories, and mythologies they were trying to share with the world.

    All in all, I absolutely loved Moana and I would re-watch it a hundred times if I could afford the movie tickets.

    That being said, I petition to replace the proposed “Frozen” Broadway adaptation with an adaptation of “Moana,” complete with Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson portraying Maui live on-stage because, let’s face it, the man can sing.

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