James Knight Bafta Reviews: Moana

Despite its fairytale image, Disney animated movies tend more toward cultural diversity and female empowerment more so than other Hollywood studios.

The latest such Disney film, Moana, takes these concepts to new levels while still blending in its traditional methods such as Disney’s strong use of music and positive storytelling involving heroic deeds.

Moana deftly weaves together a basic tale of akin to a hero on a quest journey with its strong utilization of music scores. Given the story’s background, the Polynesian themed music adds an air of magic and of soothing quality to a common tale with a few alterations thrown in.

Of late, Disney has utilized stronger female leads and the character of Moana takes it into new territories. Moana is an actual princess of a Polynesian island village. However, she isn’t the traditional Disney princess in that she is actually more focused on her duties of being village chieftain one day. While Moana does have a bit of wanderlust flow through her as in wanting to sail beyond the local reef, it is tempered by belief in fulfilling her duties. When the village crops start to sicken and die off and the fish harvest in the local reef begins drying up, Moana realizes that she must do something to save her people. She eventually runs across Maui, a confident demi-god who is dealing with his own personal issues. Together, the pair start out on a quest designed to save Moana’s island and restore Maui’s honor.

Where the story differentiates from other Disney stories is that there is no romantic plot involved, simply a straightforward coming-of-age story of the hero. Maui is more of a mentor and guide for Moana more than anything and the comical secondary characters are reduced to a odd-thinking chicken.

Under this background, Moana succeeds in delivering a nice, short and effective tale. The movie’s simplistic storyline means that it likely won’t rank among some of Disney’s great animation films because there isn’t too much depth, but the straightforward approach keeps it from veering off course. Combined with its fine island music songs, Moana does justice to a strong Disney animated tradition in its own way.