Disney’s animated musical “Moana” is formulaic. Happily, it’s the new Disney formula rather than the old fashioned Disney formula. That’s to say that our strong, independent heroine doesn’t just sit around and wait for her prince charming.

Moana (Auli’i Cravalho) is a teenager living in the Pacific Islands with her sheltered family. When the natural reef, flora and fauna begin dying in her homeland, she sets off on an adventure (after being “chosen” by the ocean itself) to find the demi-god Maui (Dwayne Johnson) in order to save her people. The feisty Moana is strong-willed, intelligent and kindhearted young woman, and is sure to be an inspiration to little girls (and boys) everywhere. There’s no Prince Charming love interest, and there’s a fun, magical focus on Polynesian culture and a distinctive sense of place.

Everything in this movie screams high quality, and all with an overwhelming sense of care and passion (several attributes that have been lacking from many recent Disney and Pixar films).

Cravalho and Johnson voice their characters with a contagious enthusiasm, both giving first-rate vocal performances. There are plenty of big, rousing musical numbers with catchy original tunes by Lin-Manuel Miranda, Mark Mancina and Opetaia Foa’i. The music in this movie is going to be tough to beat because the songs are so creative in their lyrical rhythms and arrangements. The animation is magnificent and dazzling, and the visuals are textural, gorgeous to look at, and incredibly refined. At times I forgot I was watching an animated movie, and I longed to dip my toes in the crystal clear ocean where Moana and Maui sailed.

The movie isn’t dumbed down for idiot audiences either (okay, so there is an extended senseless scene with a tribe of warrior coconuts that had me rolling my eyes). Overall the entire film is a sophisticated, elegant and polished adventure.


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