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Disney continues its winning streak with this big-hearted musical animation about a young woman fighting to protect her Pacific island community

This charming animated family movie about a teenage Polynesian girl fighting to save her Pacific island’s future feels like business as usual for Disney in many ways. There’s a strong young female lead, catchy show tunes, lush landscapes and talking animals – a hermit crab with a fondness for trinkets almost steals the film and a dim chicken offers light relief.

But this tale from the directors of ‘Aladdin’ and ‘The Little Mermaid’ also feels like progress. Moana (voiced by Auli’i Cravalho) is a young woman of colour set to take over from her father as the leader of an island community way back in the past (their beliefs are based around sea-travel and the island’s creation myth). When the plants on Moana’s island start to wither, the ocean chooses this 16-year-old to defy her father’s orders and set sail in search of a muscled demi-God Maui (Dwayne Johnson, self-mocking and funny), who can help her secure her people’s future. There’s not a prince or potential husband in sight; Moana’s future is entirely defined by her leadership and ability to fend off the mansplaining know-it-all Maui. As messages go, we’ll take them.

The story is a fairly simple quest tale as Moana takes to the open water in uneasy cahoots with macho Maui. His animated tattoos are among the film’s visual highlights, alongside the azure waters lapping the sand. There are some belters on the soundtrack, a few of them courtesy of man-of-the-moment Lin-Manuel Miranda, the creator and star of the Broadway smash hit musical ‘Hamilton’. (Although most memorable is the more playful ‘Shiny’, the crab’s magpie-like ode to glittering things, sung by Flight of the Conchords’ Jemaine Clement.)

Late in the film, ‘Moana’ serves up a memorable foe, Te Ka, a smouldering, smoking giant made of lava. But the film’s strongest emotional pull comes in the form of Moana’s relationship with her elderly grandmother and, when she passes, the memory of her. Along with the film’s hippy-ish musings on the relationship between humans and the elements, it gives the film a moving, supernatural touch.

By: Dave Calhoun


Release details

Rated: PG
Release date: Friday December 2 2016
Duration: 103 mins

Cast and crew

Director: Ron Clements, John Musker

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Average User Rating

4.8 / 5

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Tara P

Moana is Disney's first full-length venture into Polynesian climes: a sea-faring, island hopping tale of adventure and family expectation under sunny skies. Despite the 'Frozen' weight of expectation on its shoulders, Moana holds its own. With an engaging protagonist who longs to explore the ocean, some excellent animal sidekicks and the vocal talents of The Rock, it is both beautiful and engaging. Island life is wonderful (if a tad sugar-coated) on-screen, and the characters have enough passion and emotion to drive the story forwards. The plot is not the most compelling or original, but addictive songs and a happy outlook dull your awareness of this until you're humming along in a grinning trance. The talents of Lin Manuel Miranda have been put to good use: the headlining 'How Far I'll Go' at first seems a tad contrived, but improves with encores and by the third listen is utterly addictive. 'We Know The Way' is the standout new addition, with hundreds of years of ancestral history conveyed through one short, hummable tune. Moana is perfect family viewing. A reverse Little Mermaid with hints of Mulan and some touches reminiscent of Hercules, this new adventure is a melting pot of classic Disney storytelling with a dash of Polynesian new-ness. It's a joy to watch.

Sarah G

We had a pre Christmas family trip to see Moana. If I'd reviewed it straight away I think it would have been three or four stars as it felt pretty regular Disney, not that memorable or remarkable. However, since we've been home all of us have been talking about the characters and singing the songs so clearly it did strike a chord. It is great that it has a strong female lead who forms friendships, not romances, who overcomes fears and saves the day.

I think, on balance, it's a keeper!

Kirsty S

Thoroughly enjoyed this refreshing take on the Disney Princess franchise, on par with Frozen, Shrek and other family adventure flicks.

The rock, aka Maowi is hilarious, and a surprisingly good singer ! 

Fantastic wit and subtle changes in what is is to be a Disney princess, an animal sidekick being one, Moana is fearless, brave and a fantastic role model for young kids. 

Animation is fantastic, heartwarming songs and the perfect treat for kids and grown ups.


Moana is delightful. Dare I say it, I preferred this to Frozen.

I loved the fact that Moana does not like to be called a princess and that she has no love interest, instead she is shown as a strong young girl facing up to her fears.

It still has the charms of other Disney films like the songs and is aimed at all ages.

I would recommend going to watch Moana as you will leave the cinema smiling.