Moana Early Reviews: Another Fun & Beautifully Animated Disney Romp

Moana (Auli'i Cravalho) and Maui (Dwayne Johnson) in Disney's Moana

It's no secret that Walt Disney Pictures is having a banner year in 2016. The studio is breaking box office records thanks to a stable of hits that includes ZootopiaThe Jungle Book, Captain America: Civil War, Finding Dory, and now Doctor Strange. Before the Sorcerer Supreme exceeded box office expectations during opening weekend, the Mouse House had brought in $5.85 billion for the year, and that figure should only go up over the next couple of months. Disney still has a few high-profile releases on the horizon, including Rogue One: A Star Wars Story and Moana.

In addition to being financial hits, another similarity between Disney's 2016 output is that they've been beloved by critics. Word-of-mouth can go a long way in influencing a film's commercial performance, and the studio has been fortunate in this regard thus far. Fortunately for them, it looks like their winning streak will continue this fall, as the first reviews for Moana have made their way online.

We have collected some SPOILER FREE excerpts below for your reading convenience. Those who are interested in reading the full reviews ahead of time can do so by clicking the corresponding links included with each snippet.

Disney's Moana (Auli'i Cravalho)

THR - Michael Rechtshaffen

Appealing equally to the eyes, ears, heart and funny bone, Moana represents contemporary Disney at its finest — a vibrantly rendered adventure that combines state-of-the-art CG animation with traditional storytelling and colorful characters, all enlivened by a terrific voice cast.

EW - Devan Coggan

Moana has a lot of the hallmarks of your classic Disney adventure — the goofy animal sidekicks, the feel-good messages — but its heroine is something new, a smart and fiery deviation from your standard European lovestruck princesses. The result is a pitch-perfect addition to the animated Disney canon.

Variety - Peter Debruge

For older audiences, especially those who came of age during the era of Beauty and the Beast, much of what follows will seem like Disney boilerplate, but that would be understating the shrewd yet significant ways Musker and Clements innovate. There’s the welcome cultural aspect of the female explorer, of course, plus the fact that the film gives its heroine a healthy, more realistically proportioned physique (reminiscent of the Hawaiian characters in Lilo & Stitch), rather than forcing Moana into the mold of past princesses.

Moana Poster Banner

The Wrap - Alonso Duralde

Moana does what it does so well that you wish its makers had imbued it with some X factor that separates the classics from the merely beloved. If you don’t mind Disney’s business as usual dressed up with a little hibiscus, then you’ll enjoy this latest journey of self-discovery.

Guardian - Steve Rose

Moana’s “know who you are” message is the sort of thing we’d probably want our children to hear, and there’s a pleasing resonance in the way the movie transmits ancient folk knowledge via digital means. But Disney has set a high standard lately. Frozen defied its fairytale template by swerving into matters of sisterhood, Big Hero 6 pulled off a clever trans-Pacific cultural fusion, and this year’s excellent Zootopia was both a snappy, original comedy and a valuable primer in identity politics. Moana never quite reaches these heights. Its cultural setting is fresh; its storytelling, less so.

Forbes - Scott Mendelson

Moana sails through somewhat familiar waters, to the point where it sometimes resembles a mix-and-match of prior Disney animated classics. But it justifies its well-tread path via knowing humor (one animal sidekick is Bill Pullman-in-Ruthless Peoplestupid) and a commitment to telling a damn good version of said story.

The consensus is that the animation is (characteristically) top-notch for Disney, perhaps taking things to the next level with its depiction of bodies of water and rich, lush environments. Reviewers also seemed to enjoy the original songs (which include tunes from Hamilton creator Lin Manuel-Miranda), particularly Moana's "How Far I'll Go," and Maui's self-congratulatory anthem "You're Welcome." While the soundtrack may not be in Frozen territory, it's still catchy and entertaining, providing more songs to add to one's Disney playlist.

Tamatoa in Moana

Another positive found in the reviews is the portrayal of the characters, most notably Moana and Maui. The filmmakers were praised for making the former a strong, independent female lead that's different from Disney princesses of the past, while the latter is an amusing riff on the sidekick trope. Many will be pleased to hear that the script treats its Polynesian inspirations with respect, balancing humor and heartfelt drama to deliver a well-rounded experience that's bound to please many. Moana was the subject of controversy recently due to the Maui Halloween costume, but fortunately it sounds like the actual movie will steer clear of similar troubles.

If there is one negative at this juncture, it's that the main narrative is seen as too by the book and doesn't truly stretch the boundaries of the animation realm (like, say, Zootopia, which some pundits bring up in their reviews). That may be disappointing for some viewers who have been impressed by Disney Animation's efforts in the last few years, but a straightforward story is seemingly not enough to derail the picture. Savvy fans of the studio may be able to predict where Moana's titular heroine will end by her journey's conclusion, but they'll have a fun ride getting to that point. There's not much else you can ask out of a family film over the Thanksgiving holiday, so Moana should be another winner.

Source: Various (see links)

Key Release Dates
  • Moana (2016) release date: Nov 23, 2016
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