Disney’s animated feature Moana evokes feeling of nostalgia

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Moana made a splash at the box office this Thanksgiving week opening with an impressive $81.1 million, the second highest Thanksgiving debut. It is a refreshing and innovative spin on the Disney princess genre. Moana is not only enjoyable for kids, but is poignant and exciting for teens and adults as well. Moana sails out on a daring mission to save her people, discovering the one thing she always struggled to find: her own identity.

The film tackles the underlying themes of finding yourself and finding one’s purpose in life throughout the entire movie. It is bound to evoke a feeling of nostalgia for the wonders of being a child in the older generation and give the younger generation an exciting narrative of Moana, a Polynesian heroine who is asked by the ocean to save her people with the help of a demi god.

Disney created a sense of authenticity in its casting by giving newbie and Hawaii native Auli’i Cravalho the leading role of Moana. Shapeshifting demi god Maui is played by Dwayne Johnson, bringing in some familiar star power to the film. Johnson himself grew up in Hawaii and is of Samoan descent, maintaining the authenticity of the cast. In typical Disney fashion, the movie is full of catchy, upbeat musical numbers. This time, they enlisted the help of Hamilton’s Lin-Manuel Miranda in writing several of the songs. Fans of the musical may find this film more appealing knowing that one of its main writers worked with the successful play.

It was inevitable that Frozen and Moana would get compared to each other, as the two films are alike in the fact that they both have a progressive outlook on how a Disney princess should act. Moana came in a close second to Frozen’s Thanksgiving debut three years ago, but Moana is completely different from every other Disney princess movie in one simple and amazing way—there is no prince charming. For once, a Disney movie focuses on a princess and does not revolve around her trying to win the love of a prince and living happily ever after. Instead, the main focus is Moana finding herself and discovering why she has this insatiable urge to venture out beyond her island village of Motunui and sail on the ocean against her father’s wishes.

The plot of the movie is incredibly strong and relatable to people of all ages and backgrounds. Moana is the island chief’s daughter and she is the next in line to be the leader of her people. Traditionally, a male would be next in line to rule but in Moana, a female is more than capable of being a leader. Everyone on the island believes in her abilities. The only thing that seems to be forbidden on this island is sailing the ocean because of the evil monsters that inhabit the sea. These sea monsters inhabit the surrounding ocean because the demi god Maui stole the heart of the sea to please the people. As punishment, he was thrown into isolation and the sea was doomed to be infested with the monstrous creatures.

Throughout the movie, Moana struggles between obeying her father and listening to her heart’s desire. This struggle is illustrated through a heartfelt musical number with beautifully touching lyrics and great imagery of the fictitious island of Motunui. Disney did a great job capturing and dropping the audience right into Moana’s world. Visually, the film can easily remind the audience of watching James Cameron’s 2009 blockbuster hit Avatar. The graphics could make audiences forget they are watching an animated feature. A big element of the film is the ocean and the its relationship with Moana.

Personifying the ocean adds even more to this imaginative world and to the film’s charm because it guides both Maui and Moana throughout their deep sea adventure. Moana’s relationship with the nature around her adds depth to her character and lets the audience peek into the culture’s deep connection with nature. It is important to point out that Moana does not consider herself a princess. Maui is the one that insists on calling Moana a princess, stating “if you wear a dress and you have an animal sidekick, you’re a princess.”

It is almost as if Disney is making fun of the traditional Disney princesses of the past and trying to change the way its audiences perceive a princess. Disney appears to be looking forward and seems to be aiming at making movies that center more on who a character is on their own, rather than who they are while vying for the attention of a potential suitor.

The cast of characters is charming and realistic. Maui is a bit of a narcissist, but Johnson manages to make him lovable and magnetic as well. Maui is the perfect contrast to Moana. Cravalho brings an endearing innocence and believable sass to her character. The two are a dynamic duo and their sibling-like chemistry translates on screen.

From beginning to end Moana captivates its audiences with beautiful visuals, an original plotline and charismatic characters that will leave audiences satisfied.

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