Film review – Moana (John Musker and Ron Clements, 2016)

Walt Disney Animation Studios have released their 56th animated film, the musical Moana. I’m going to whisper this quietly, but it might actually be better than Frozen.

The story follows 16-year-old girl Moana (Auli’i Cravalho) as she defies her passage to become the leader of the tribe on the fictional island Motunui. Her father Chief Tui (Temuera Morrison), leader of her island tribe, and her mother Sina (Nicole Scherzinger), are fearful of the water and want her to remain on the island, but her outgoing grandma Tala (Rachel House) encourages her to leave and hunt down the demigod Maui (Dwayne Johnson) to solve a mysterious curse that she believes has led to a poor harvest.

Moana and Maui

The basics of the story are, on the face of it, quite by-the-numbers. There’s a teenage protagonist, which makes it relatable for the younger viewers. She goes on a quest that has a practical purpose but also helps her develop as a person. She teams up with an unlikely buddy to help her in her journey. We’ve seen it many times before but the familiarity doesn’t hamper its success.

Where the story excels is threefold. Firstly, it has a brilliantly sharp and humorous script, which the actors are clearly having a lot of fun with. Secondly, the animation of both the characters and the surroundings is absolutely stunning. Finally, the music, which was written by Hamilton’s Lin-Manuel Miranda, Mark Mancina and Opetaia Foa’i, is outrageously good, and goes much further than simply one great flagship song (in this case “How Far I’ll Go”, sung by the lead and effectively Moana’s answer to “Let It Go”).

Indeed, it is unfortunate that the film has been unleashed in the same year as La La Land, which is destined to sweep up at most of the award ceremonies, at least in the Best Song categories. Miranda may have to have another attempt in a less competitive year.

There are a couple of nice smaller roles that are grasped by those involved. Alan Tudyk may be more famed for his turn as K-2SO in Rogue One this year, but he’s equally hilarious as Hei Hei the Rooster here, constantly stealing scenes with sound effects that match the ridiculousness of the island’s most endearingly stupid bird. Elsewhere, Jermaine Clement shows up as Tamatoa, a giant kleptomaniacal crab who has a penchant for all things shiny.

But the plaudits must go to Auli’i Cravalho, who comes in as a complete unknown and has delivered a lead performance that equals the best Disney has ever achieved. At just sixteen but with a voice as good as anything I’ve ever heard on stage, she has a very bright future indeed.

Moana is a must see this holiday season and should be top of your list if you need to entertain any younger relatives over the coming weeks.

Check out the reviews of other Disney animated features and shorts here:

Kronk’s New Groove
The Emperor’s New Groove
Melody Time
Big Hero 6

Disney’s Moana – Everything you need to know

Walt Disney Animation Studios will be releasing their 56th animated film globally on 23rd November 2016. Titled Moana (or Vaiana or Oceania, depending where you live), the film follows a 16-year-old as she embarks on a quest to a mystical Polynesian island to find the demigod Maui and uncover the island’s secrets.

This article should bring you up to speed with everything you need to know.

Who’s directing the film?

The directors are Ron Clements and John Musker, the directorial duo who have been responsible for some of the greatest Disney films over the last thirty years.

Here’s what they’ve made:

That’s a tremendous track record, with two of the films stone-wall classics and the remaining four well-regarded if a little under-appreciated. Their last work – The Princess and the Frog – may well be the best Walt Disney Animation Studios film released in the last decade.

Where is the film set?

The titular character is a native of the fictional island Motunui, which is said to be in the Pacific Ocean.

There is a coastal town in New Zealand that shares its name, and there is also an island just south of Easter Island, but neither of these is the setting for the film. Instead, the inspiration for the setting is said to be Teti’aroa, a different Polynesian island most famed for being bought by Marlon Brando in the 1960s.

This is located about where the pin is on the following map (courtesy of Apple Maps).

Basically, it’s in the middle of the South Pacific Ocean in French Polynesia. By all accounts, it’s a beautiful part of the world to visit and, thanks to the Marlon Brando Estate you can!

I’ll be, erm, saving up my pennies.

Who’s in it?

The lead character of Moana Waialiki is voiced by Auli’i Cravalho, a 15-year-old newcomer to the film industry. The video above shows you how thrilled she is to effectively be the next Disney princess. A huge role and it’s a nice touch they managed to find someone from Hawaii to take on the role.

Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson voices legendary demigod Maui, the unlikely buddy for Moana to set off on her journey with.

Elsewhere there are contributions from Pussycat Doll Nicole Scherzinger as Moana’s mother Sina, Temura Morrison (Episode II’s Jango Fett) as Moana’s father Chief Tui, Flight of the Conchord’s Jermaine Clement as the crabby Tamatoa, Rachel House (who you may remember as the over-zealous welfare services officer Paula in Hunt for the Wilderpeople) as Moana’s grandmother Tala and Disney regular Alan Tudyk as idiotic bird Hei Hei.

On top of that, there are musical contributions from Lin-Manual Miranda, who has managed to fit this in between the massive success of Hamilton and the preparation for the Mary Poppins reboot he’s just been cast in. Oh, and Star Wars.

There’s a short clip of the song “You’re Welcome” below.

Are there any trailers or clips available now?

Disney have been releasing a slow trickle of scene previews and trailers. Here’s a selection:

Official Trailer

International Trailer 1 (Japanese)

International Trailer 2 (Portuguese)

International Trailer 3 (Russian)

International Trailer 4 (German)

International Trailer 5 (Italy)

Official Teaser Trailer

Clip – Is there something you want to hear?

Song – “We Know The Way”

Clip – Moana meets Maui

When is it released?

It has various release dates. The key one for me is the UK release date of 2nd December, although it will be hitting USA screens a few weeks earlier on 14th November.

Most of Europe will have it before Christmas, apart from Scandinavia who won’t be able to enjoy it until 2nd and 3rd February. The last country to get it is Japan on 10th March, a full four months after its initial release date.

What We Do In The Shadows (Taika Waititi and Jermaine Clement, 2014)

Taika Waititi and Jemaine Clement’s mockumetary What We Do In The Shadows follows a group of Wellington-based vampires as they try to come to terms with living in the 21st Century. It’s a nice new take on the vampire genre given the recent attempts by the Twilight Saga to ruin both vampires and werewolves for a whole generation, but it didn’t really get going until the final third.

A lot of the dynamics of the humour come from the fact that the three main characters – Viago (Waititi), Vladislav (Clement), and Deacon (Jonathan Brugh) – have their own separate issues in adapting to and accepting a modern domestic life. Viago is a bit of a stickler for cleanliness, moaning about the dishes not being done and putting tissues down to protect the carpets before he bites into victims’ necks. It works well for most of the film and they’re able to create a lot of humour from the situations.


One thing it borrows on heavily from Waititi and Clement’s most successful collaboration – Flight of the Conchords – is the ability to inflate the mundane everyday goings-on of the main characters to create massive issues. They’ve clearly thought the subject matter through and found some humorous takes on what could happen if vampires had to, for example, go clubbing. First of all, they can’t check themselves out in the mirror as they have no reflection, so they have to draw pictures of each other to illustrate what they each look like. Secondly, the only clothes they have are salvaged from their victims, so outfit choices are limited. It is funny, but not side-splittingly hilarious.

Towards the end of the film, their relationship to the local werewolves provide some huge laughs and the situation at the annual social dinner with other vampires (plus zombies) is also well thought out and delivered. It was the pay-off for what at times felt a little contrived throughout the saggy middle of the film.


Mockumentaries are a strange thing. Some people love them, some people hate them. They’re always going to get compared to the genre-defining Spinal Tap, which is probably never going to bettered. I saw past that, but couldn’t help thinking that it was both a great idea and a missed opportunity.

This isn’t a film that necessitates a trip to the cinema, but would be a worthy view once it becomes available on the various home entertainment channels early next year, especially if you’re a fan of their previous work.

What We Do In The Shadows is released in the UK on 21st November 2014 and in the USA on 13th February 2015.