The writers made an effort to deviate away from tropes that plague Disney movies by doing away with a love interest to focus on a heroine’s journey.
Moana’s struggles are easily relatable to any young person girl or boy – How Far I’ll Go conveys the internal conflict between duty and independence, doubt, and hope.
Unlike the typical animated lead, she isn’t simplistically rebellious or naive. This combination of beyond the surface characterization matched with catchy tunes extends to the rest of the narrative, lending it a surprising depth despite its slapstick humor. The supporting characters, even the villains, have their own flaws and motivations.
The culturally appropriate casting is a perfect fit, which makes Moana the first POC cast movie with nary a white male in sight. The lead is played by a teen and the most recognizable actor is of Samoan descent.
The world-building here is no Pixar, but the animation looks good. The crafty use of bioluminescent colors, vivid palette, and ample details make the setting engaging enough.
As with stories portraying a non-white culture from the hands of a megacorporation, there are bound to be liberties taken. The movie has gotten mixed reactions, ranging from affronted to begrudgingly tolerant (spoilers inside) to elated.
The creative tweaks to the stereotypical Disney narrative don’t entirely take away from a typical hero quest and female empowerment cliches. As always Disney tends to reuse ideas from elsewhere – Chief Tui is no different to King Triton and demigod Maui is reminiscent of the shape-shifting wisecracking Genie.
However, it can still be said that Moana accomplished what it set out to do as an inspiring and entertaining movie with a female lead.
Moana teaches us that there is no good or bad people (or monsters in this case), just beings trying to deal with their own complexes. This fully realized theme, catchy songs (in collaboration with Lin-Manuel Miranda and Mark Mancina), and likable characters make this a solidly entertaining Disney princess movie.
Moana is a progressive addition to its Disney princess line-up thanks to vivid animation, catchy music, likable characters, and well-written themes of self-discovery.