WALT Disney Pictures’ 56th animated feature film, “Moana,” is proof that the master of animated movies has not lost its touch. It has in fact grown more proficient in its craft.
The technology may have developed by leaps and bounds, from hand-drawn cels to 3D digital graphics, but all these years, Disney has stuck to a formula: a story with a strong moral message, a lovable hero or heroine (usually with a sidekick), a generous helping of humor, and memorable songs.
It’s called the “Disney magic” and it has entranced generations of moviegoers.
In “Moana,” Disney turned to Polynesia and its rich tapestry of legends woven around islands and seas. The Polynesians worship a pantheon of deities, and one of the most popular is the demigod Maui.
It is Maui who helps Moana, a teenage princess in Motunui, an island that is fast losing its food resources. Moana realizes that her people will slowly starve unless they find another island that could sustain them. There is one problem: the islanders are forbidden to sail beyond the reef that surrounds Motunui.
Moana has long been fascinated by what lies beyond the reef, but her father, the chief, has stopped her from venturing out. She can’t explain why the sea has beckoned to her ever since she was a toddler, but one day her grandmother lets her in on the tribe’s greatest secret. She leads Moana to a cave where she discovers a fleet of boats designed for long ocean journeys. “We’re voyagers!” Moana exclaims as the truth dawns on her: Her people had roamed the seas before settling in Motunui.
Now that the island is dying, Moana realizes that it’s time to look for another home. When she fails to convince her father the tribe must leave, she sets out on a sailboat to find a new island on her own.
To help her on her quest, she must first look for Maui, who has been marooned on an island, utterly powerless after losing his magic fishhook. He lost it after being attacked by the lava demon Te Ka.
Maui was not exactly a well-behaved demigod. He had stolen the stone heart of Te Fiti, an island goddess. Unfortunately, he lost the heart along with his fishhook during the encounter with Te Ka.
Moana’s grandma somehow found the heart and had given it to the intrepid teener, with instructions to find Maui and have him return the heart to Te Fiti.
Moana finds Maui’s island alright, but the demigod wastes no time trapping the girl in a cave and sailing away in her boat to find his fishhook, which enables him to morph into a bird or some other creature.
She escapes from the cave and catches up with Maui. He throws her overboard, but the sea magically deposits her back in the boat. Maui tries several times more to ditch Moana, but she keeps coming back.
Grudgingly he agrees to return the heart to Te Fiti, and the two enter into an uneasy partnership. Soon they are comfortable enough with each other to become close friends.
The two team up to retrieve Maui’s Magic Fishhook from a giant coconut crab. But when Maui battles Te Ka, the fishhook is badly damaged. Fearing his weapon might be destroyed, Maui disengages from the fight, leaving Moana to face Te Ka.
Moana must use all her guile to defeat Te Ka to get to Te Fiti and save her people. But without Maui, her chances of victory are slim to none.
Hawaiian Auli’i Cravalho is a snug fit as the voice of Moana, and Disney chose six Asians, including Filipina Janella Salvador, to sing the theme song “How Far I’ll Go” for the movie’s country-specific release.
Dwayne Johnson voiced for Maui, who comes on as a cool dude with the super bod and the moving tattoos.
True to the Disney tradition, Moana is accompanied in her adventures by her sidekick, a kooky hen name Heihei.
The Disney magic lives on in “Moana.”