Moana a spirited story propelled by a powerful princess — just don’t call her one

Every year, it seems, the studio that Mickey built delivers heroines that get better and better. And the Polynesian princess at the heart of Disney’s latest animated film Moana might be one of the best in years — just don’t call her a princess.

Propelled by the plucky voice of native Hawaiian Auli’i Cravalho, the title character is a spirited 16-year-old Pacific Islander next in line to become the chieftain, but the last thing she wants is a crown to weigh her down. She wants to push back the edges of the map and, when it becomes clear something is poisoning the very life-force of her oceanic paradise, Moana heads out to find a demigod to set things right.

Film-Moana Casting

A different kind of buddy film starring a decidedly different princess: 16-year-old Moana (voiced by native Hawaiian Auli’i Cravalho) joins forces with the arrogant demigod Maui (Dwayne Johnson) in Disney’s latest animated movie. (Disney/Associated Press)

This brings us to Maui, the demigod voiced by wrestler-turned-movie-star Dwayne Johnson. With the familiar arched eyebrow, a shaggy mane of hair and broad rippling body covered with animated tattoos, Johnson has finally found a character suited his supersized personality.

Part of Moana’s charm comes from being steeped in Polynesian mythology. The animators even created a think tank called Oceanic Story Trust, made of up of musicians, anthropologists and tattoo artists to ensure accuracy — lending to a feeling of organic discovery of a lush, but familiar world.


Moana is steeped in Polynesian mythology. The creative team formed a think tank called Oceanic Story Trust, including musicians, anthropologists and even tattoo artists, to ensure accuracy. (Disney)

Beyond its vibrant colour scheme and rooster HeiHei’s hilarious set pieces, Moana‘s casting of Auli’i Cravalho as the lead makes the story sing.

The first-time actor is a natural ham, but also shows an earnestness and flashes of anger that make her character compelling.


Cravalho was auditioning for a high-school fundraiser when a casting director saw her beatbox-acapella mash-up. Soon, she was off to Los Angeles to audition for Moana. (Hugh E. Gentry/Disney/Associated Press)

Moana is not waiting for a Prince Charming to save the day: she’s a problem solver with a can-do spirit, complemented with an athletic character design — painting an overall portrait of a teen princess who is capable and confident.

There are moments of predictability to be sure, but they don’t make the journey any less enjoyable (Plus, the peppy tunes by Hamilton’s Lin-Manuel Miranda don’t hurt).

With a combination of sparkling performances and authentic, South Pacific-flavour, Moana gives the audience a breath of fresh air when we need it most.

RATING: 4 out of 5 stars

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