Heroine saves the day her way

Disney's Moana has its strongest and most independent female role model to date, and with stunning animation to boot

REVIEW / ANIMATION MUSICAL

MOANA (PG)

115 minutes/Opens tomorrow/3.5/5 stars

The story: The Polynesian island of Motonui is starting to rot, but its people are afraid to venture out on the oceans to find a new land. But Moana (voiced by Auli'i Cravalho), daughter of the tribal chief, is eager to travel across the waters to find a mythical island with powers that can save her own from destruction. Along the way, she befriends demigod Maui (Dwayne Johnson).

This Disney princess has no prince and the film is all the better because of it.

Demigod Maui (left, voiced by Dwayne Johnson) lends a hand to Moana's (Auli'i Cravalho) quest to look for a mythical island.
Demigod Maui (left, voiced by Dwayne Johnson) lends a hand to Moana's (Auli'i Cravalho) quest to look for a mythical island. PHOTO: WALT DISNEY PICTURES

Even though Walt Disney Animation Studios has been turning fairy- tale tropes on their heads for a while now, the titular Moana here is its strongest and most independent female role model yet.

The studio's last princess movie, Frozen (2013), was about Anna and Elsa's sisterly bond rather than their romantic happily-ever-afters.

But Anna was nonetheless distracted by two love interests - first Prince Hans and then iceman Kristoff.

Moana, in contrast, is her own person from start to end - each decision she makes is on her own accord and she answers for every one of them, even when they are wrong.

Disney certainly knows what it is doing here, reaching such comfortably self-aware status that it mocks its own history: In one scene, Maui tells a protesting Moana that if she "wears a dress and has an animal sidekick, you are a princess".

That she may be - she indeed dons a Polynesian dress and has a silly chicken for a sidekick.

What she is not: a damsel-in- distress like the kind from Cinderella (1950) and Sleeping Beauty (1959). This one braves stormy oceans and battles scary monsters on her own.

Her new friend Maui aids her a little along the way, but this is still Moana's solo journey of adventure and self-discovery, one rendered in stunning detail.

The glistening, ultra-realistic flowing waters come in all shades of blue and green, and Moana's gloriously wavy strands of hair bounce independently of one another.

But while Disney breaks ground with a feisty female lead here, it plays much safer story-wise, giving viewers a standard voyage tale which just happens to feature some cute supporting characters (Christmas merchandising alert).

All this is scored to the earworm tune of How Far I'll Go, which could just be the tune for Disney fans to Let It Go of their Frozen obsession.

•Follow Yip Wai Yee on Twitter @STyipwaiyee

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 23, 2016, with the headline 'Heroine saves the day her way'. Print Edition | Subscribe