Moana is not a princess

Not since Mulan has the Disney machine created such a strong and likeable female character.

Based on neither fairy tale nor legend, Moana is only the second lead character of her kind in the entire Disney library.

The fact that she is neither white nor willowy also sets her apart as a new breed of heroine – one that is feisty and fearless.

Moana (whose name means The Ocean in Hawaiian) is the daughter of her village's chief and although she wears a dress and has a cute animal sidekick, she seeks to save her island, not find a prince.

Female energy dominates the movie as the story begins with the retelling of a Polynesian legend where earth mother Te Fiti has her heart stolen by the demi-god Maui.

Without her heart, death begins to spread throughout the land and can only be remedied when Maui returns her heart.

We witness Moana as a toddler being "chosen by the sea," which presents the missing heart to her. Unfortunately her father fearfully whisks her away from the water's edge before she is able to bring the heart safely to shore.

Throughout her childhood, Moana is called toward the ocean, but is told it is forbidden to go beyond the reef and so she reluctantly obeys and does her duty.

As she approaches adulthood, she is ready to give up her dream of exploring the ocean waters when her wise, but eccentric, grandmother guides her to a hidden cave that contains the secret of their people – they used to be sea nomads.

Moana feels vindicated – the pull of the ocean is valid and must be pursued. As her island begins to experience crop failures and a lack of fish in the lagoon, she knows that she is the chosen one to find Maui and return balance to the Earth.

After a lengthy setup, so begins a fairly typical and predictable hero quest movie.

Polynesian culture provides ancient legends, inspiration and a lush background for this original and fanciful adventure story.

Newcomer Hawaiian-born Auli'I Cravalho sparkles as the heroine Moana. She has a nice combative chemistry with Maui and possesses a solid singing voice.

Cravalho, only 14 years when she voiced the role, won the coveted part after a global casting call was put out in 2015.

She is the youngest actor to perform a lead in a Disney film and is someone to watch out for in future roles.

Dwayne Johnson (The Rock) was an inspired choice to play the exiled demi-god Maui.

His arrogant self-assurance is nothing more than a shell for the warm-hearted softy he is beneath all those muscles, tattoos and hair and it doesn't take long before Moana wears him down.

There are many visually spectacular scenes in this film from the characterization of the ocean water to the rich island life to the realm of the monsters.

We are never without something spectacular to look upon.

In a unique and interesting directoral twist, Maui is covered in tattoos that have all been hand-drawn old-school animation style.

The tattoos act as his conscience and provide comic relief as well as a nice contrast to the digital animation.

Musically, while it is disappointing that more authentic Polynesian or Hawaiian artists weren't used in the film, there are some memorable songs and witty lyrics abound reminiscent of The Little Mermaid and Aladdin.

There is a lot to celebrate in this film – positive female role modelling, an earth-friendly message, ancestral honouring and even a Ziggy Stardust homage.

Moana is an entertaining and enjoyable ride.

I give this film 4 out of 5 stars.

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About the Author

Kim Foreman-Rhindress is a graduate of the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York City and London Western Conservatory of music for piano and voice. 

Kim has been performing in theatre and film for over 30 years in Canada, NYC, Palm Beach, Los Angeles, and the Netherlands. She has written several plays which have been produced in Canada and the U.S., and is the founder of Kelowna Voice Lab - helping people find their voice, be it singing or acting. 

A working musician, she performs regularly in Kelowna with her husband, Jim Rhindress, in an acoustic duo Smitten, and with her vintage trio Kitsch 'n Sync.  

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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