Just as their subsidiary company Pixar have experienced a slightly bumpy ride in terms of their creative output in recent years, Disney’s main in-house animation department have been on something of a roll – basking in the critical and commercial successes of Tangled, Wreck-It Ralph, Frozen and Big Hero 6, as well this year’s sublime earlier feature Zootropolis. It’s a hot streak that looks set to continue with this feminist spin on the myth of the demigod Maui, directed by Ron Clements and Jon Musker (a duo who have had great success with the company in the past with the likes of The Little Mermaid and Aladdin) and with songs written by cultural man-of-the-moment Lin-Manuel Miranda (whose musical Hamilton is currently the hottest ticket on Broadway).

It’s another sumptuously animated visual feast, with the vibrant colours of its Polynesian setting brought to vivid life with the kind of state-of-the-art visuals you’d expect from this company (the hand-drawn tattoos on Maui’s body are a real highlight), and Miranda has done a great job with the songwriting (particularly a piece called “How Far I’ll Go”). The voice work is also strong, especially Dwayne Johnson who gets to really push his considerable comedic skills for a change. While its cultural sensitivity isn’t perfect (depicting Maui quite so foolishly is arguably more than a little crass), there is evidently some quite considerable effort made here to be respectful, and the strong feminist message with a woman of colour as the lead character is a great thing for a globalised audience of children to see.

MOANA
Disney's own in-house feature films are generally better than Pixar's these days9
The detailed level of animation on display here is some of the best the medium has ever seen9
Lin-Manuel Miranda certainly knows how to write a catchy song or two8
The cultural sensitivity isn't perfect but a considerable effort is clearly made7
Sending such a strong feminist message out to kids is powerful and crucially important9
Bechdel Test passes
  • Features more than one named female character
  • The female characters talk to each other
  • They talk about something other than men
Bechdel test failures
  • n/a
8Overall Score

2 Responses

  1. Han

    This movie made me finally understand your love for Dwayne Johnson – his performance was excellent!

    Reply
    • celluloidoptimist

      He’s a vastly underrated actor, especially for his comic timing, and is almost always the best thing in any movie he’s in

      Reply

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