Disney Animation has hit the temporarily envious position of finding their sweet spot and turning out one satisfying crowd pleasing hit after another.
I can understand why some people regard this as the best Disney animated film E.V.E.R.
The story is straight out of the Joseph Campbell playbook but that’s what’s expected in this sort of a tale.
There are a few nods towards James Cameron’s The Abyss in the form of the sentient ocean --
-- and a glowing manta --
-- and a call out to The Lion King which used the exact same gag only with a Polynesian bent.
The digital world building is practically flawless and looks realistic enough to fool the average eye.
Disney has found the perfect blend of design and texture for the human characters, giving them streamlined unwrinkled faces (even Granny) with what looks onscreen to be the soft plastic texture of a doll’s skin.
It’s a smart choice insofar as it take the characters’ appearance right up to the edge of the infamous “uncanny valley” without actually falling in.
Also of note -- and if you haven’t been involved in animation this will probably escape you -- was the film’s use of hair to help convey the characters’ mental state, with subtle changes in texture reflecting what’s going on emotionally with a character.
Voice casting is pitch-perfect, with Auli'i Cravalho as Moana (age indeterminate; Maui refers to her as being eight but may have been sarcastic) and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson (and -- yowsa! -- is he ever good and not only that, he can sing!).
Disney, to their credit, took the time and made the effort to get as much authentic Polynesian input into the making / casting / recording of this film and it shows -- even in areas where is doesn’t “show”.
A major sub-text of the story (and harkening back to Campbell) is how a culture defines itself.
Culture is based on the stories a society tells about itself. The stories may be told / sung / written / drawn / danced but they are expressed and reinterpreted generation to generation. Our stories reflect who we are and who we aspire to be, and in the end they are the only thing we leave behind that lasts.
Moana’s use of storytelling within the context of the story is extremely well done without becoming metatextual. There are some pretty profound spiritual and theological themes present, too, which are pretty surprising for a “pagan” movie.
Thoroughly enjoyed this, and on the fan boy side:
- I can’t wait for the inevitable Genie/Maui team-up
- Disney is missing a bet if they don’t try to turn the Kakamoras into their Minions.
 I say “temporarily” because as Caesar and Patton can attest, all fame is fleeting, and the formula that makes you gold today is too precious to meddle with and tomorrow is will produce dross but you’ll keep doing it because that’s what made you gold in the past. You’re only as good as your last miracle.
 Quite literally so in several places, with not one but two -- count ‘em,two -- visits to an underworld where the hero(ine) returns with a boon.
 That probably doesn’t sound like a big deal to most of you but holy shamolley, wotta tool for animators!
 Look it up. Whaddya think Google is for?
 In particular Moana’s moment of crisis and doubt when she feels she isn’t up to the task before her. Yeah, it’s an animated film set in ancient Polynesian myth, but it sure makes you feel what Jesus must have felt in the garden of Gethsemane.