Rated PG, 103 minutes
From Belle to Ariel to Elsa, Walt Disney is a master at creating young and strong heroine's that charm their way into our hearts. This time, in the familiar yet colorfully enjoyable "Moana," our heroine is a young Hawaiian princess striving to find her own identity. It occasionally feels like "Frozen" has transplanted to the tropics, but there enough fun moments and energizing music to easily win you over.
An adventurous teenager named Moana (newcomer and native Hawaiian Auli'i Cravalho) sails out on a daring mission to save her people. During her journey, Moana meets the once-mighty demigod Maui (Dewayne "The Rock" Johnson), who guides her in her quest to become a master way-finder. Together they sail across the open ocean on an action-packed voyage, encountering enormous monsters and impossible odds. Along the way, Moana fulfills the ancient quest of her ancestors and discovers the one thing she always sought: her own identity.
The magical, funny and relevant "Moana" is handsomely directed by the Disney team of John Clements and Ron Musker, the duo behind such Disney classics as "Aladdin," "Hercules" and "The Princess and the Frog" with a screenplay from "Zootopia's" Jared Bush, there's a lot to enjoy about the winning film, from its crisp, bright animation, to some funny characters, nice music and a heartwarming, original story, even it goes on a tad too long and the heroine feels plucked out of other Disney hits.
The peppy music and songs here are done by Opetaia Foa'i, Mark Mancina and "Hamilton" Tony-winning star Lin-Manuel Miranda, and add some enjoyment when the story tends unevenly wanders into familiar or overly magical territory, especially in the last act, that may easily go over the heads of the young ones. Cravalho is an excellent singer, by the way, and even Johnson can serviceably carry a tune or two.
Still, it helps that the charming Johnson, as charming as ever, is a perfect fit as Maui, while newcomer Cravalho grounds the film warmly as the titular character. Stealing scenes and getting the most laughs is a dumb cluck of a chicken, Heihei, voiced by familiar character actor Alan Tudyk, as well as Flight of the Conchords' Jermaine Clement as a greedy coconut crab who's literally left on his back.
"Moana" is a delightful, altogether fun addition to Disney's long list of films and heroines, even the magical princess has been done many times before, and will likely be done more in the future. With its slick, handsome animation and memorable tunes, expect it to be a shoo-in for the Best Animated Film Oscar. As with most Disney/Pixar efforts, it comes with another inventive, funny animated short, "Inner Workings," that should also find acclaim.