By Samantha Ofole-Prince
Walt Disney's "Moana" is a delightful and inventive animated fantasy flick with a splendid blend of animation, music and culture. A film about an adventurous teenager who sails out on a mission to save her people, Samantha Ofole-Prince breaks down the eight reasons why this one is a must see.
1. “It sits firmly in the Disney legacy,” says producer Osnat Shurer, a movie veteran who has produced a host of hit shorts and features including the Oscar-nominated “Lifted.” Taking slices from classics “The Lion King” and “The Little Mermaid,” it’s consistent with the Disney style of storytelling and has awesome characters, explores familial relationships and is very contemporary and relevant.
2. It’s helmed by two legends of animation. John Musker and Ron Clements are the same directing duo who worked on the classics "The Great Mouse Detective," The Little Mermaid,” “Aladdin” and “The Princess and the Frog.” It’s customary for Disney, due to the scope of the work, to have two directors on one movie and both have developed a short hand which clearly works. “We simply divide up the sequences and fight over the songs,” says Clements.
3. If you’ve ever wondered what Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s singing voice really sounds like, you will get to hear plenty of it. Johnson (HBO’s “Ballers,” “Central Intelligence”) lends his voice to demigod Maui, inspired by a great mythological hero known throughout Oceania, and he belts out several notes including the catchy track “You’re Welcome,” written by “Hamilton” creator Lin-Manuel Miranda.
4. With one exception, the majority of the voice cast are from the Pacific Islands. “We wanted the actors who play the parts to have roots in the Pacific Islands,” adds Shurer. “That was very important for us and our entire cast except for Alan Tudyk are.”
5. We can never have enough female protagonists in Hollywood films. The female lead, Moana, is voiced by 15 year-old newcomer Auli‘i Cravalho and is a modern new heroine who thinks and acts independently, even rebelliously. “This isn’t a love story—it’s action, adventure, fun and drama. Moana wants to save the world—literally—even though she’s just about the only person who realizes it needs saving. She’s a powerful role model for today’s audiences,” adds Shurer.
6. It’s grounded in research. Disney filmmakers are notorious for conducting extensive research to bring their stories to life. They studied wild animals to prepare for “The Lion King” and “Zootopia” and for “Moana,” which is inspired by the cultures of Oceania, the team traveled to the Pacific Islands to learn as much as possible about the culture. The research took five years. Everything—from how Moana’s canoe looks and functions to plants on the islands to the material used in their clothing—was all deeply influenced by the research.
7. The songs are cool and catchy. John Musker and Ron Clements clearly enjoy telling stories with music and “Moana” is no exception. With music from Tony, Emmy and Grammy-winning lyricist/composer Lin-Manuel Miranda (“Hamilton”), three-time Grammy-winning composer Mark Mancina (“Tarzan”) and Te Vaka’s founder and lead singer Opetaia Foa‘i, it has an incredibly harmonious sound. “I have been writing albums that promote my culture and this film is very cultural and aligns with what I do,” says Foa‘i, who has been performing original Pacific music for more than two decades.
8. It’s a visual feast. With music, laughter and endearing visuals, there is the sense that not a single frame has been compromised because of the cost of animation. Musker and Clements use their background in hand-drawn animation and CG to create a visually immersive experience. “What we endeavored to do with the ocean and island settings in this film really called for CG animation,” says Clements. “The islands, the skylines, the mountains, even the characters all have a sculptural quality to them that comes through really well in CG animation,” adds Musker.
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Printed in the December 11 - December 24, 2016 edition