Published Nov 22, 2016Cynics would probably suggest otherwise, but Disney has actually made some major strides in the past 20 years, finally creating protagonist princesses with real agency and some pretty diverse storylines (this year's Queen of Katwe and 2015's seriously underrated McFarland, USA). Their latest 3D kids film, Moana, signals even further change.
Set somewhere in Polynesia, 16-year-old Moana (voiced by newcomer Auli'i Cravalho in her first film) is the adventurous daughter of a chief (Temuera Morrison), a doting dad whose only dream for her is to lead their people. But Moana gets the sense there's more to the world.
When their island starts to succumb to a mysterious fungi infecting their fruit and destroying their fish, she decides to set sail against the wishes of her father in search of new lands and an answer to their problems.
Joining her on the journey is Maui (Dwayne Johnson), an arrogant demigod slighted by humanity who finds humility while helping Moana hunt for a cure.
People's Sexiest Man Alive may be better known for his big guns than his acting chops, but the former pro wrestler continues to electrify on screen, even delivering an upbeat musical number that makes use of his limited range. (Speaking of music, Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda helped with the songwriting process, digging deep into Polynesian culture to create a song that would not only resonate with children, but the people and beliefs that inspired it.)
Like all Disney films that don't have the name "Pixar" attached to it, if Moana has a downside to it, it's that the bare bones of the story are a little too by-the-books (anyone nearing adulthood can probably predict where things are going once the story starts rolling).
But by steering away from stodgy archetypes, creating distinct and diverse characters and building an equally diverse team around it to bring the whole thing together — this is the first time a female employee of the studio has been Head of Animation on a feature-length project — Moana shows that while Disney may occasionally rely on what works, they're progressive to realize that in this day and age that's not enough. (Disney)