The story goes that some time ago in the South Pacific the world was created by the life giving properties of a goddess called Te Fiti who seeded the islands and the sea with creatures and eventually humanity as well, all living in perfect harmony - that was until the demigod Maui (voiced by Dwayne Johnson) arrived on the scene, never one to turn down a challenge if it meant he could impress the people who worshipped him. He took it upon himself to steal Te Fiti's heartstone, a green gem that gave her the power she needed to sustain the world, and without it a gradual decay has afflicted the ocean, meaning eventually everyone will die of that forced entropy. There you go, children, another lovely story from Grandma Tala (Rachel House)!
Moana was our heroine here, as the title indicated, a Polynesian princess who longs to escape her island paradise and see what is out there in the wider world, performed by Hawaiian native Auli'I Cravalho presumably largely down to her powerful singing voice (she was under sixteen years old when she recorded her lines). That for a change in a twenty-first century animated movie there was not a star performing the lead role was refreshing, especially when she took to the part like a duck to water (or a chicken to water might be more apt in this case), indeed when the bulk of the story was essentially a two-hander (not counting Alan Tudyk as HeiHei, said fowl) it was a mark of good casting that she sparred verbally so well with Johnson.
The decay caused by Maui is no myth, in fact nothing Grandma Tala relates to the kids is made up, the islanders think she's crazy (or at least eccentric) but she knows more than she lets on, content to be underestimated when her real project is teaching valuable observations to the younger generation, specifically Moana. The girl needs this grounding, this faith someone has in her to make her mind up that she genuinely needs to break out of this insular community and forge ahead to save not only her tribe but the planet as well, and she set about this task with commendably serious intent, as you would imagine the duty of rescuing the human race, and not only us, would have to be approached. But this was Disney, so there was room for humour.
The chief directors, the instigators of the movie, were Ron Clements and John Musker, who would make parents taking their kids to see this feel old when they realised as filmmakers they had been behind such favourites as The Great Mouse Detective and Aladdin; they had been around a while and there was a touch of the formulaic about their plotting which did live up to the bar set by the Ray Harryhausen fantasy quest epics like Jason and the Argonauts without every stunning the audience with anything overwhelmingly brilliant. That said, often the generally excellent is more than enough, and the beautifully coloured visuals and personality-packed character design made for an entirely pleasurable experience, with the scenes that emphasised the adventure cleverly lifting the material to the authentically thrilling.
On the instructions of her Grandmother and against the wishes of her father (Temuera Morrison) Moana sets out over the till now protective reef to return the gem to Te Fiti, but first she must track down Maui. In a truly ingenious development the ocean itself became a character as well, assisting her when it could and seeing to it that our heroine can always survive against apparently unfavourable odds, but it was the antagonistic turned reluctantly respectful relationship between Moana and Maui that gave the film its heart and impetus. Maybe he is more human than god in that he got us into this mess by overachieving and for what? For not much reward, but with his new companion he can finally act like the hero always wanted to be, albeit while righting a wrong that he should never have conducted in the first place. His contrition was interesting, like a naughty child who must be forgiven before he can move on, and Moana became the mother figure who was responsible for bringing fertility back to the islands, a positive message of looking after Mother Nature. Oh, and Jermaine Clement showed up as a David Bowie-like crab - did I mention this was a musical, and with very decent tunes from Opetaia Foa'I, Mark Mancina and Lin-Manuel Miranda to boot?
[Disney's exquisitely-hued Blu-ray has a wide selection of extras, including two short cartoons, a commentary from the directors, a making of featurette, and loads more. They've really, uh, pushed the boat out with this release.]