Combustible Celluloid
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With: Auli'i Cravalho, Dwayne Johnson, Rachel House, Temuera Morrison, Jemaine Clement, Nicole Scherzinger, Alan Tudyk, Oscar Kightley (voices)
Written by: Jared Bush, based on a story by Ron Clements, John Musker, Chris Williams, Don Hall, Pamela Ribon, Aaron Kandell, Jordan Kandell
Directed by: Ron Clements, John Musker, co-directed by Don Hall, Chris Williams
MPAA Rating: PG for peril, some scary images and brief thematic elements
Running Time: 113
Date: 11/23/2016

Moana (2016)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Island Girl

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Disney looks to have another success — perhaps even one of Frozen dimensions — with their new animated Moana, a movie that does just about everything satisfyingly right.

Opening Wednesday in Bay Area theaters, Moana is another of Disney's "Princess" movies. The title character is the daughter of the chief on a secluded and self-sustained Polynesian island. Moana's people have lived there for generations without venturing past the reef, which, anyway, is forbidden.

Moana (voiced by honest-to-goodness Hawaiian-born teen Auli'i Cravalho) is set to take over as chief, but she can't shake a feeling of wanderlust. Then, suddenly, the island's resources begin to dry up. Coconuts are rotting, and fish have disappeared.

Then, she learns that she has a destiny. She must find the demigod Maui (voiced by Dwayne Johnson), an initially self-centered, but exuberant fellow, adorned with moving tattoos, and convince him to return a stolen gemstone to an ancient goddess.

They are joined by Moana's intelligence-challenged chicken Heihei (squawks provided by Alan Tudyk), and along the way, they face obstacles like a giant, treasure-encrusted crab (voiced by Jemaine Clement).

There are wonderful songs, co-written by Lin-Manuel Miranda of the Broadway sensation Hamilton. Johnson sings a catchy number called "You're Welcome" and Clement sings a villainous tune called "Shiny."

But the showstoppers are Moana's "How Far I'll Go" and the chorus-sung "We Know the Way." Expect children to be listening to all these songs repeatedly in the coming months.

Disney Princess veterans, co-directors Ron Clements and John Musker (The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, and The Princess and the Frog) probably deserve much of the credit for the film's easy-breezy achievements.

This is their first fully computer-generated movie, although they experimented with computer-generated backdrops in their underrated Treasure Planet. The work here is beautiful, with an especially impressive, photorealistic use of water; the sea has its own personality.

But it's the movie's confident spirit that keeps it moving. Indeed, Moana feels like the result of lessons learned from past Disney films. It's forward-thinking in terms of culture and gender, but unlikely to offend anyone.

Moana is a strong, delightfully appealing female character, and one whose purpose is not to find a prince.

The movie doesn't even have a culturally stereotypical villain; the antagonist is actually a force somewhat akin to climate change, though here it can be fought with magic rather than science.

The movie very simply sails straight and true, effortlessly and with a great deal of joy and delight. It's perhaps not as clever or funny as this year's earlier Disney offering, Zootopia, but it's wonderful in its own island way.

Disney's DVD/Blu-ray edition, released in March of 2017, is, as expected, a superb example of Blu-ray technology. It comes with a digital copy, and a whole bunch of extras. Highlights include the wonderful theatrical short Inner Workings, a new Moana short, Gone Fishing, a deleted Lin Manuel-Miranda song, a fun guide to the Easter Eggs hidden in the movie, a commentary track by Musker and Clements, and many more. Overall, I'd say this is an outstanding release, and a must for any Disney fan.

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