Directed by Ron Clement and Jon Musker.
Featuring Auli'i Cravalho, Dwayne Johnson, Rachel House, Temuera Morrison, Alan Tudyk, Jermaine Clement and Nicole Scherzinger. 107 mins
There's something deeply sinister about Disney Princesses and their uplifting, inspiring ballads. They may be focussed in on little girls but the effects spill out over the place and anybody caught in the surrounding area is likely to find themselves reduced to mush. The latest Disney Princess isn't a princess actually – Moana (Auli'i Cravalho) is a Polynesian tribal chief – but she has a song, called “How Far Will I Go.” (Hopefully not very, given she's clearly underage.) It's no “Let It Go,” but it does a job on you.
So there I was, a more than moderately jaundiced middle aged man, watching her seafaring mission to save her tribe alongside pompous fallen demi-god Maui (Johnson), when she starts to belt out her big number, and out of nowhere a wave of uplift, joy, and frilly innocence swept through me. I had no control over it, like a flash infection. And then the song stopped and it went away and I felt a little bit used and cheapened.
Directors Clement and Musker are Disney lifers, who have ridden the ups and downs with the Mouse for over three decades, starting with The Great Mouse Detective is the mid eighties. They made the Little Mermaid and Aladdin, two of the films that really spearheaded Disney return to market dominance. They also contributed rare disappointments Hercules and Treasure Planet, while 2009's The Princess and The Frog was effectively the death knell of hand drawn animation.
Moana is a state of the art computer animation but in every other aspect it is adheres rigidly to Disney orthodoxy: a strong heroine; comedy animal side kicks; musical numbers; cultural homogenisation* and playing things straight – no smart aleck knowingness. It's the perfect time for it: among its many, many disappointments 2016 has been the first year when the majority of the big screen animations (with the honorable exception of Zootroplis/topia) have been underwhelming. Too glib, too frantic, too zingy, too nothing. This is funny and charming and moving; a return to traditional values to get behind.
*People are apt to get very upset about this tendency to render every ethnic group as a different shade of American, but maybe they should just see this as Disney vigorous stirring of the melting pot. The Mouse can see beyond superficial difference; deep inside the whole world is a potential consumer.