Moana is the second film release of 2016 from Walt Disney Animation Studios, following the massive success that was Zootopia: an animated movie that has both grossed over a billion dollars worldwide in theaters and earned some of the best reviews for any film released this year thus far. While that naturally raises the bar as far as expectations go for Moana, the fantasy adventure is shaping up to be a worthwhile addition to the long line of Mouse House-animated features in its own right; complete with beautiful animation, great music and songs co-written by Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda, and a memorable sidekick in the form of the demigod warrior Maui (as voiced by Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson).
Moana‘s namesake and protagonist, as voiced by newcomer Auli’i Cravalho, is a South Pacific islander who sets out on a great adventure to save her people – one that will take her across the seas of ancient Oceania. However, in order to complete her quest, she seeks out help from the legendary Maui: a fellow whose impressive accomplishments are matched only by his equally massive strength, incredible shape-shifting abilities… and his not-at-all-small ego, as the above clip from the film illustrates.
Accomplished Disney animation filmmakers Ron Clements and John Musker called the shots on Moana, and this new clip from the movie contains a number of elements that harken back to the duo’s previous directorial efforts. The “Tweeting” joke here from Maui is in line with the type of pop culture-referencing humor found in Clements and Musker’s Aladdin and Hercules in particular. Similarly, The Rock’s jovial celebrity persona seems to shine through in the role of Maui similar to how Robin Williams’ comedic personality was a key element of the Genie in Aladdin (though The Rock, in real-life, tends to be more humble than Maui).
Whereas the first Moana clip focuses on establishing the respective personalities of the film’s two heroes, a newly-released Halloween-themed TV spot for the movie (see above) focuses more on the fanatical spectacle and creatures featured in the narrative; including, Tamatoa, an enormous coconut crab who resides in the ‘realm of monsters’ (a.k.a. Lalotai) and is voiced by Jemaine Clements (Flight of the Conchords, Men in Black 3). The playful, yet still threatening nature of the South Pacific mythological creatures in Moana, including the coconut-clad Kakamora that are part of what the film’s directors describe as a Mad Max: Fury Road-esque action sequence, also recalls how Greek mythical beasts and monsters are portrayed in Hercules.
Moana doesn’t appear to have the layered narrative and socially-concious subtext that elevated Zootopia into being something special, even by Disney Animation Studios standards. Nevertheless, it does have the makings of a solid hero’s journey adventure with humor and heart to spare, thanks to the efforts of its talented cast and crew; including, the film’s co-writer and current Thor: Ragnarok director, Taika Waititi. And as has been mentioned before (but bears repeating), the involvement of South Pacific talent on both sides of the camera – including, music that Miranda and Mark Mancina (Tarzan) co-wrote with Opetaia Foa’i (from the Oceanic music group Te Vaka) – likewise suggests that Moana will bring a nice touch of cultural authenticity to this Disney ‘toon to boot.
Moana opens in U.S. theaters on November 23rd, 2016.