‘Moana’ will set your imag­i­na­tion soar­ing

Chattanooga Times Free Press - ChattanoogaNow - - SPOTLIGHT - TRIBUNE NEWS SER­VICE

Moana (Auli’i Cravalho) isn’t your av­er­age Dis­ney hero­ine. For one thing, she has no in­ter­est in the ti­tle of “princess.” She might be the daugh­ter of the chief, but make no mis­take, she’d rather be called a “wayfinder” — an oceanic nav­i­ga­tor guid­ing ships through­out the Pa­cific Ocean. When she en­coun­ters the iras­ci­ble, for­mi­da­ble demi-god Maui (Dwayne John­son), she’s quick to cor­rect him.

The ti­tle char­ac­ter of Dis­ney’s lat­est an­i­mated fea­ture, the Pa­cific Is­lands-in­spired “Moana,” re­flects the evo­lu­tion of the Dis­ney hero­ine over the years. She’s smart, strong, re­source­ful and fully ca­pa­ble of sav­ing her­self and oth­ers with her wits and phys­i­cal­ity. She’s the type of hero­ine one hopes lit­tle girls will want to be like — em­pa­thetic, self-re­liant, skilled, hard-work­ing, driven to help oth­ers.

One thing that might be a bit harder to em­u­late is her mys­ti­cal re­la­tion­ship with the ocean sur­round­ing her is­land home. She’s al­ways been drawn to the gor­geous, crys­tal turquoise waters (which the an­i­ma­tors have ren­dered in sparkling de­tail), though her fa­ther, Chief Tui (Te­muera Mor­ri­son), guides her away from the ocean and to­ward her lead­er­ship du­ties on land. But Moana can’t re­sist the ocean’s siren call.

So Moana sets out be­yond the reef to find Maui, re­trieve his mag­i­cal fish­hook, and re­turn the heart to Te Fiti, bat­tling fe­ro­cious co­conut war­riors and miserly crabs and the lava mon­ster Taka in the process. She and the ar­ro­gant Maui share a prickly al­liance forged by their shared goals. Their trio is rounded out by a truly dumb chicken who stows away on the boat, Hei­hei (Alan Tudyk).

The beau­ti­ful neon-pas­tel is­land scenery is bol­stered by in­stant ear-worm mu­si­cal num­bers, writ­ten by Tony Award-win­ning “Hamil­ton” cre­ator and star Lin- Manuel Mi­randa and Samoan mu­si­cian Opetaia Foa’i, along with com­poser Mark Mancina. Be pre­pared for Moana’s soar­ing in­spi­ra­tional an­them “How Far I’ll Go” to re­place “Let It Go” from “Frozen” im­mi­nently.

With a sim­ple story of one girl set­ting off be­yond the hori­zon in or­der to save her home, the voice per­for­mances round out the fla­vor and char­ac­ter of the film. John­son of­fers much of the comedic el­e­ment, with his fast-talk­ing Maui, al­ways in con­flict with his an­i­mated tribal tat­toos, who serve as his con­science.

But aside from the vis­ual de­lights, re­mark­able hero­ine and in­stant-clas­sic sound­track, what comes through so beau­ti­fully in “Moana” is the care and at­ten­tion to de­tail the film­mak­ers have put to ren­der­ing a story about the his­tory and cul­ture of the Pa­cific Is­lands. The re­li­gious folk­lore and tra­di­tion of voy­ag­ing that make up the story have been well-re­searched, with im­por­tant in­put from na­tive peo­ple.

To that end, it’s in­cred­i­bly im­pres­sive that Dis­ney cast ev­ery ma­jor voice role with Pa­cific Is­lan­ders, from Samoan (John­son) to Maori (Cle­ment) to na­tive Hawai­ian (Cravalho and Ni­cole Scherzinger, who voices her mother, Sina). The film is richer for its at­ten­tion to her­itage. “Moana” will warmly fill your heart and soul, and set your imag­i­na­tion soar­ing across the sea.

WALT DIS­NEY AN­I­MA­TION STU­DIOS

An an­i­mated still from the movie “Moana,” voiced by Cravalho as Moana and Dwayne John­son as Maui. Auli’i

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