Disney’s neo-classic streak continues with Moana, a not wholly original, but still thoroughly enjoyable film for the family to enjoy during the holidays. While many of the elements of the film may seem rather familiar (one could almost call this Aladdin on the water), there’s enough originality and freshness, not to mention lush, gorgeous visuals to make up for any lack of originality.
First, let me just say that the chicken steals the show in this movie. The chicken in Moana is the dumbest, most endearing animal sidekick to come along in a Disney movie in quite some time. This chicken will continually surprise you not only with its life-threatening stupidity, but also how it proves to actually be a rather useful sidekick to have around in the clutch. I know it’s strange to say, and it feels strange to even by typing this as a sentence, but the stupid chicken was easily one of my best parts of the movie.
The other stand-out is “The Rock” as the demigod Maui. His spot-on comedic timing and considerable charisma are on full display here, which is impressive considering it’s an animated character. Plus, “The Rock” sings, and does a pretty darn good job of it, too. Who knew? Perhaps more impressive is how the Disney animators, just as they did with the Genie in Aladdin, are really able to capture the essence of the actor while still creating a unique character with Maui. If Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson were to be a Pacific island demigod, I’m pretty sure this is exactly what he would look like and how he would sound. As Maui’s story unfolds, we learn that all of heroic acts were done with just one purpose in mind; we wanted to earn the love and adulation of the people. Unfortunately, this pursuit led him to do something that tragically backfired, and thus necessitated Moana to take up her hero’s journey. The fact that his last epic act backfired so badly left Maui lamenting that no matter how much he’s done for the people of the islands, it was never really enough to earn the love the he felt he was due.
This is a radically different approach than God’s interaction with people. The Bible tells us the story of a God who performed miraculous and remarkable feats not because he wanted to earn the love of people, but rather because he himself loved those people so very much. Also, the God of the Bible never fell short in the tasks performed for humanity. Rather than feeling that it was never enough, when Jesus breathed his last words on the cross, “It is finished,” it was God stating that he had done more than enough. The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ was God doing everything needed, and more, to save humanity from a truly tragic fate. Again, this deed wasn’t performed in order to earn love, but because God already loved us and wanted to do for us what we could never accomplish on our own. He conquered sin, he conquered death, he brought live everlasting within our grasp; all truly epic, heroic feats performed on our behalf by a God who loves us.
Moana may have lush visuals, some really fun music, and endearing characters, but it’s not without its problems. Chief among those is an issue with pacing. There are one too many times where our heroes experience setbacks and have to have some sort of inspirational, motivational talks to urge then onwards. There comes a point in the film where this just feels like a delaying tactic to pad out the movie a bit before getting to the finale. Ironically, the other issue is a lack of some development with characters. There are some key moments that are glossed over and thus certain events happen rather abruptly without any real background on why they’re occurring. This uneven pacing mars a story that already struggles at points with being mostly familiar, just in a different setting.
However, these flaws aren’t enough to dampen the exuberant, energetic spirit of the film. Moana still delights with its amazing visuals and plenty of fun and adventure, along with a few unexpectedly awesome moments (a.k.a. evil pirate coconuts). No, Moana doesn’t reach the dizzying heights of Frozen or the fresh, fun, original vibe of Zootopia, but it makes the most of the solid Disney formula to deliver a solid if predictable movie the whole family can enjoy.
Score: 5 of 7 – Moana presents an interesting spiritual worldview that will definitely be worth discussing with kids in how it differs from what the Bible teaches us. Aside from that, the movie delivers a breezy fun adventure that’s easy for anyone to enjoy, despite a few flaws.