Review: Moana (2016)

As a Disney Princess story, ‘Frozen’ may be more subversive, but ‘Moana’ is more revolutionary.

The hair animation is amazing! ‘Frozen’ may be more rib-nudgingly subversive, but ‘Moana’ is (or at least feels like) the more revolutionary Disney princess film: a not-princess (who reminds the other characters, and us, about that repeatedly), whose arc involves no white rescuer or romantic interest, and who effectively goes on a hero’s journey but with women in most of the male roles (it’s ‘Star Wars’ starring Moana as Luke & Leia, Maui as Han Solo, Gramma as Obi Wan, and Te Fiti as… Vader, kinda?).

‘Moana’ is also psychedelic AF – the beautiful animation is showcased in some genuinely disorienting sequences, and I’m curious as to the process that went into a lot of the design decisions of certain characters and sequences – the evil coconuts, the fluorescent manta ray, the visually (and emotionally) arresting final resolution of Te Fiti, and the entire song-and-dance episode of Tamatoa. Jermaine Clement’s Tamatoa (and I was convinced it WAS Clement’s character in a writing sense, from the dialogue to the song, until I checked the credits) steals the show for me, and has a post-credits scene which tips the scales from ‘Frozen”s rib-nudging into full-on spelling out for the audience how po-mo-Disney this movie really is.