It looks like Disney will have another success, perhaps even one of “Frozen” dimensions, with “Moana,” an animated movie that does just about everything satisfyingly right.
Opening today, “Moana” is another “princess” movie.
The title character is the daughter of the chief on a secluded, self-sustained Polynesian island. Moana’s people have lived there for generations without venturing past the reef, which is forbidden.
Moana (voiced by honest-to-goodness Hawaiian-born teen Auli’i Cravalho) is set to take over as chief, but she can’t shake a feeling of wanderlust.
Suddenly, resources begin to dry up. Coconuts are rotting, and fish have disappeared.
Moana then learns she has a destiny. She must find the demigod Maui (voiced by Dwayne Johnson), an initially self-centered, but exuberant fellow, adorned with moving tattoos, and convince him to return a stolen gemstone to an ancient goddess.
They’re joined by Moana’s intelligence-challenged chicken Heihei (squawks provided by Alan Tudyk). Along the way, they face obstacles like a giant, treasure-encrusted crab (voiced by Jemaine Clement).
Wonderful songs are co-written by Lin-Manuel Miranda of the Broadway sensation “Hamilton.” Johnson sings a catchy number called “You’re Welcome” and Clement sings a villainous tune called “Shiny.”
But the showstoppers are Moana’s “How Far I’ll Go” and the chorus-sung “We Know the Way.”
Expect children to be listening to all these songs repeatedly in coming months.
Co-directors and Disney princess veterans Ron Clements and John Musker (“The Little Mermaid” and “The Princess and the Frog”) deserve much of the credit for the film’s easy-breezy achievements in their first fully computer-generated movie (although they experimented with computer-generated backdrops in their underrated “Treasure Planet”.
The work here is beautiful, with an especially impressive, photorealistic use of water; the sea has its own personality.
Still, the confident spirit is what keeps things moving; “Moana” feels like the result of lessons learned from past Disney films, particularly with its forward thinking regarding culture and gender.
Moana is a strong, delightfully appealing female character, and one whose purpose is not to find a prince.
Interestingly, “Moana” doesn’t even have a culturally stereotypical villain; the antagonist is a force somewhat akin to climate change (though here it can be fought with magic rather than science).
“Moana” sails straight and true, effortlessly, and with a great deal of joy and delight. It’s perhaps not as clever or funny as this year’s earlier Disney offering, “Zootopia,” but it’s wonderful in its own island way.
Three and a half stars
Starring Auli’i Cravalho, Dwayne Johnson, Rachel House, Temuera Morrison (voices)
Written by Jared Bush, Ron Clements, John Musker, Chris Williams, Don Hall, Pamela Ribon, Aaron Kandell, Jordan Kandell
Directed by Ron Clements, John Musker
Running time 1 hour, 53 minutes