Moana review: If it walks like a Disney princess . . .

The songs are great but the girl power a bit confused in this enjoyable animated adventure

No Polynesian pushover: Moana (voiced by Auli’i Cravalho).

Film Title: Moana

Director: Ron Clements...

Starring: Auli’i Cravalho, Dwayne Johnson, Rachel House, Temuera Morrison, Jemaine Clement, Nicole Scherzinger, Alan Tudyk

Genre: Animation

Running Time: 113 min

Thu, Dec 1, 2016, 11:00


“If you wear a dress and have an animal sidekick, then you’re a princess,” the title character of Walt Disney’s 56th animated feature is told. The film-makers are trying to communicate something here. Moana may defy many edicts in the Princess Handbook, but the film still wants to be part of that family. If things go as hoped, little girls will be pestering for Moana costumes next Halloween.

This is a tricky pitch. The latest film from the admirable Ron Clements and John Musker,directors of Aladdin and The Little Mermaid, could hardly be sounder in its sociological gestures.

It begins on a Polynesian island whose citizens boast about sustainability. Moana, daughter of the chieftain, is more formidable than any man in the community. She is warned that nobody goes beyond the reef, but, when shortages mount, Moana bravely leaps in a boat and ventures in search of magic solutions. There is no waiting at castle casements for some dolt on a horse.

Unfortunately, those old-fashioned patriarchal traditions are part of what make a Princess story into a Princess story. Frozen subverted a few of them from within. Moana feels like something else altogether.

This is not necessarily a bad thing. The picture is relentlessly good-natured and full of worthwhile lessons. Heihei the idiotic chicken provides the heroine with a satisfactory animal foil. The burly demi-god Maui, Moana’s eventual companion, radiates the warmth you can manage only if Dwayne Johnson speaks your lines.

For all that, Moana lacks the zest we associate with Disney’s greatest creations. Neither of the main villains (a dull fire breathing behemoth and a giant crab who sounds like David Bowie) will ever share the same bestiary as Shere Kahn or Cruella de Vil. The backgrounds, though beautiful, are a little too photo-realistic.

What the film does have going for it are super songs. Lin-Manuel Miranda, creator of Hamilton, includes no abuse of Mike Pence in the lyrics, but this endlessly right-on film does feel like the kind of thing Donald Trump would distrust. That’s reason enough to buy a ticket.