Disney’s Marvel and Star Wars franchises (which, together with Disney’s animated blockbusters, have given Disney more box office sales in 2016 than any other studio in history: an unfathomable 8 billion dollars) continue to deliver the same old same old redemptive violence, showing no imagination whatsoever (okay, Doctor Strange was a little better - see upcoming review), but something wonderful is going on with Disney’s children’s films. Recent Disney films like Inside Out, Pete’s Dragon, Zootopia and Finding Dory have stayed far away from the kind of redemptive violence (e.g. killing off the baddies) so common in Disney films since the day Disney started (with Snow White in 1937). And now comes Moana, which comes very close to following in the path of Pocahontas, Disney’s most ethical animated film (though far from its best).
Of course, that’s already a spoiler, for which I apologize, but since that fact alone is the reason for my rating of Moana, it had to be mentioned. I don’t have any more spoilers, but do offer the following summary: Moana is about a young Polynesian princess (Moana) who decides to follow her grandmother’s advice (instead of her father’s) and leave the island where she and her people have lived for generations. Her reason for leaving is to find the demigod Maui and force him to return the stone he stole from the goddess Te Fiti. That theft has resulted in a creeping darkness spreading over all the islands, making it more and more difficult to find enough food.
Moana is a gorgeous film with the kind of strong female protagonist Disney hasn’t offered since Pocahontas (by this I mean a character who actually looks for ways to avoid using violence if possible in order to achieve her challenging goals, even when confronted with violence). This is a great achievement on its own and alone makes the film worth watching, and worth taking your kids to. But there are a lot of funny scenes and much good dialogue as well. Best of all (at least potentially) is the fact that it's another attempt at making an animated musical like Beauty and the Beast, though the music, as in Frozen, is somewhat disappointing, making one wish Alan Menken had written the songs.
On the downside, Moana also has some very stupid dialogue (especially by Maui) that wasn’t at all funny to me, and it had a scene involving coconut people which was completely ludicrous and unnecessary. That scene alone prevents me from awarding Moana four stars. But the ending guarantees that Moana gets a solid ***+. My mug is up. Don’t miss it.