Disney Marathon: ‘Moana’

This was an early favourite of Amelia, being only a few years old at the time of release. Cue several months of a child telling us that she doesn’t need swimming lessons, because the ocean is a friend of hers. Also that she doesn’t need to sleep, but a way-finder doesn’t sleep. We also have a chicken named Hei Hei.

For those just joining us, this is a movie marathon with a twist. Myself (cranky 30s blogger), my son Josh (stoic 10 year old Nintendo obsessive) and my daughter Amelia (drama llama 7 year old princess wannabe) are watching Disney movies in a random order and ranking them. We hope to see interesting differences in how we organise our lists.

Film: Moana

Released: 2016

Director: Ron Clements & John Musker

Cast: Auli’i Cravalho, Dwayne Johnson, Rachel House, Temuera Morrison, Jemaine Clement, Alan Tudyk

Plot: Moana, the daughter of a Polynesian island chief, is chosen by the ocean for a quest to save her people. She must find lost demigod Maui, and help him return the magical relic the heart of Te Fiti to its home.

Review: Musker and Clements are the creative minds behind the Disney Renaissance, having directed The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, Hercules and more recently The Princess and the Frog. The next plan was to adapt Sir Terry Pratchett’s Mort. When the rights to this oddball project fell through they pitched a couple of original ideas, including basing a story on the Polynesian legend of Maui. What they turned out at the end is a delightful adventure film that manages to play with Disney tropes while moving the goalposts.

Moana (Cravalho) has spent her life living in a small village on a small island. She’s felt drawn to the ocean and feels compelled to explore beyond the horizon. This attitude is encouraged by her eccentric grandmother (House), the self-proclaimed village crazy lady, but discouraged by her father (Morrison). We learn why he fears exploring beyond their borders later in the film, but we’ll note that without knowing his reason her father is never cruel or angry about this – he’s always supportive and honest. We can already see Disney wanting to play against their tropes with Moana having a supportive set of parents who never die. Her grandmother does instead. At least they’re making an effort.

When food supplies on the island are affected by a blight, Moana takes to the ocean in search of demigod Maui (Johnson). The high-energy, egocentric shapeshifting legendary figure proves unwilling to participate, but eventually Moana – through a combination of strong-arming and pandering – convinces Maui to travel with her to face a giant lava monster to return the heart of the goddess Te Fiti. Demented chicken Hei Hei (Tudyk) accidentally goes along for the ride.

It’s a very simple adventure story with the required McGuffins, obstacles and inspiration speeches. Everything is well balanced out, however, and carried by some likeable characters. Moana is a well meaning and hard working future leader to her people, with the journey completing the spiritual and emotional aspects of learning this role. Actress Auli’i Cravalha was picked out of auditions at age 14, already bearing a resemblance to the animated character, feeling like she was born for the role. Although Dwayne Johnson is distinctive enough a voice that it could have been difficult to lose him in the role, Maui isn’t far removed from Johnson’s public persona.

In terms of animation, it is remarkable what can be achieved by the in-house Disney animators. It’s a beautiful looking movie that stylistically draws heavily from Polynesian culture and art, with the water effects being especially realistic looking. The pacing of the movie struggles during the second act, as the random encounters all get set up and resolved within the same scene. First we have the identity-less Kakamora, and then giant crab Tamatoa in the Realm of Monsters. Tamatoa manages to be more memorable due to a song performed by Jemaine Clement, but it’s all just standard obstacles on the hero’s journey.

These are minor gripes, as there’s little to fault the movie as a whole. The characters are fun and interesting, the music is written by Lin-Manuel Miranda and is expectedly catchy as a result and the ending is satisfying. It again proves that the best movies in the Disney canon are the ones that tweak the formula without straying from it. When that happens they tend to overthink things and make a mess. This isn’t a mess.

Best Song: A couple of hot contenders, but ‘How Far I’ll Go’ is the most inspiration Disney song since the…well, that one.

Coolest Easter Egg: When Maui recovers his hook from the back of Tamatoa you can spot the Genie’s lamp in the bottom left of the screen.

Trivia: We have a chicken named Hei Hei. So named because she’s brainless. This aspect of the character kept Hei Hei in the movie, as he was originally a guard dog character paired with the friendly Pua pig. Pua got left off the boat, but Hei Hei was going to be cut from the filmed entirely until the writers decided to remove his brain.

Rating: NINE out of TEN



It was going to rank high regardless, but Hei Hei scores a few extra rungs on the ladder.

You can click on those titles below if you want to see what we said about those films.

  1. Robin Hood
  2. Aladdin
  3. Wreck-It Ralph
  4. Moana
  5. Big Hero 6
  6. Tangled
  7. The Sword in the Stone
  8. Snow White and the Seven Dwarves
  9. Mulan
  10. Emperor’s New Groove
  11. Fantasia
  12. The Three Caballeros
  13. The Princess and the Frog
  14. Oliver & Company
  15. The Aristocats
  16. A Goofy Movie
  17. Treasure Planet
  18. Chicken Little


Amelia loved this movie from an early age, but these days when asked why she likes the movie she responds that ‘Hei Hei is super funny, and we have a chicken named Hei Hei’.

  1. Emperor’s New Groove
  2. The Three Caballeros
  3. Moana
  4. Mulan
  5. Wreck-It Ralph
  6. A Goofy Movie
  7. Tangled
  8. The Princess and the Frog
  9. Robin Hood
  10. Oliver & Company
  11. The Aristocats
  12. The Sword in the Stone
  13. Aladdin
  14. Treasure Planet
  15. Big Hero 6
  16. Snow White and the Seven Dwarves
  17. Chicken Little
  18. Fantasia


Joshua loved this movie as well, even if the blighted coconuts and Hei Hei’s screeching bothered his sensory sensitivities.

  1. Big Hero 6
  2. Aladdin
  3. Emperor’s New Groove
  4. Treasure Planet
  5. Moana
  6. The Three Caballeros
  7. Wreck-It Ralph
  8. Mulan
  9. The Princess and the Frog
  10. Robin Hood
  11. The Sword in the Stone
  12. Oliver & Company
  13. Tangled
  14. A Goofy Movie
  15. The Aristocats
  16. Fantasia
  17. Snow White and the Seven Dwarves
  18. Chicken Little