Moana review: Taking to the high seas

Chad White

Loves: Disney princess movies
Likes: Most other Disney movies
Dislikes: When movies I like end, The short in front of Moana
Hates: Nothing about this movie

There are no monsters. There is no darkness.

Disney movies tend to lean heavily on thematic elements. Whether it’s the familial connection in Frozen or racial tensions in Pocahontas, there’s bound to be at least one way for audiences to relate to the characters on screen. But for their latest movie, Moana, it proves that as technology and storytelling for Walt Disney Animation Studios grow, so too does its ability to advance its leading ladies. This movie is a superb entry into the Disney princess lore. And Moana is a princess (refer to the notes section for more explanation).

Starring 16 year old newcomer Auli'i Cravalho, Moana and its titular character are nothing to balk at. Moana is fierce, a fighter and undeterred in her goal to journey the seas. Living on an island with her village leads to a good and simple life yet Moana wants so much more. But her father Cheif Tui Waialiki (Temuera Morrison) had his own tough experience with the ocean and he doesn’t want his people or daughter to venture past their barrier reef. After her grandmother passes (and she finds the heart of Te Fiti -- an island goddess), Moana decides it’s time to make her dream fully realized. She goes forth to find the demi-god Maui (Dwayne Johnson) so they can repair the dying world together.

Disney movies tend to have some of the best production value in the category but this movie is on its own level. The voice acting from Cravalho is nothing short of phenomenal. The same can be said about the singing from every character. Speaking of the music, Moana brings a genre not necessarily explored by any film to the forefront. It’s got a World vide to it that admittedly overtakes the video that goes with it (in a good way). But with the video and music working in tandem, a sensory feeling of unexplainable emotion overtook this reviewer. In short, the music is top notch. And The Rock can sing well.

The story is above most Disney princess fare. Moana has a goal and she sets out to achieve it. She and Maui do get into sticky situations but they are ultimately focused on one thing -- even if they never see eye to eye. Better yet, there’s no forced love for Moana in needing to find a suitor. In fact, she doesn’t even mention another male aside from Maui and the Chief.

One other very wonderful aspect of the movie is that it looks so appealing. Walt Disney Animation Studio’s technology looks to have peaked yet they somehow manage to make everything look crisp. Instead of trying to make it look all around good, they dug even deeper to the smallest of details such as wrinkles on hands or light shining on the water. PLus Moana’s hair looks amazing. It’s reminiscent of Geralt’s hair in Witcher 3 and Lara Croft’s in the Tomb Raider reboots.

Should you watch Moana?

Comparing Disney princess movies is like comparing several football teams to one another. Sure, they all have quarterbacks who pass the ball to receivers but each team has a different plan on how to score touchdowns. Moana is refreshing in ways that Frozen could never be. It has the feminist ideals of Brave but the cultural identity of Mulan. And Moana herself is as kickass as Rapunzel and elegant as Belle. Disney did it again.



  • Okay. Moana is 100% a princess. Here’s how:

    • Her dad is a king; early on, she becomes his successor.

    • Even though Maui constantly states that Moana is not a typical princess, she’s nonetheless still a princess.

    • The same team that directed Aladdin, The Little Mermaid, and THe Princess and the Frog took the reins of this movie too.

    • If Merda from Brave is a princess, Moana can be one too.

  • I’m going to go ahead and believe that the opening number is sung to Moana for ~13 years straight. It’s funnier that way.

  • They did a bait and switch with the two sidekick animals. The pig was obviously the cutest one who should’ve been on the journey but Heihei the chicken is too stupid to NOT have on screen.

  • When Lin Manuel-Miranda sings in “We Know the Way,” you can really hear him. And Christopher Jackson is also here singing as Moana’s dad. It’s a regular Hamilton reunion.

  • The Mad Max Fury Road reference had me in tears. TEARS.

  • It feels so good to have a legit Disney musical again.