I'm not above taking the low hanging fruit, and of course I was going to use that as the title.
Something tells me that a lot of people probably never heard of Polynesia. Many, like myself, have probably heard of the two largest collection of islands in the area, being Hawaii and New Zealand, Easter Island thanks to the Easter Island heads, along with potentially Samoa thanks to it being in a place prone to cyclones and flooding, but not much after that, right? I admit I'm guilty of this too, I never studied global geography during high school, let alone its culture as the most experience I had with Polynesian culture, was pre soft lawsuit G1 BIONICLE, Lilo and Stich, Pokemon Sun and Moon, and modern marketing's interpretation of Polynesian artwork as tattoos and necklaces, but that last one could be completely off, so make of it as you will. Basically, if you're coming here to find out how accurate of a representation this movie is of the culture, you're going to be dissapointed as I am not a credible source on the matter, why do you think I didn't bring up the representation of the culture when I was reviewing BIONICLE, or even mentioning the Matoran were once known as Tohunga, and that there are reasons why the islands pre Bara Magna all end with Nui? I'm just here to review the movie, as a movie.
While no examples come to mind, the plot of Moana feels like its a plot I've seen done to death. The world is slowly dying because someone tried to take an artifact that they shouldn't have, and its up to the hero to get the one who tried to take it, to put it back so that life can return to the world. Object being the heart of Te Fiti, not a real heart, but what looks like an emerald, hero being Moana, the daughter of the Chief of her tribe, and the one who stole the heart and is tasked to return it being a demigod known as Maui, who's armed with a giant fish hook, which allows him to shape shift into any creature. Oh and the ocean is a character, and there's a chicken which did not need to be in the movie at all. There's no real villain, as the closest you'll get to villains is a giant crab with a gold shell, which only really serves as a mid movie threat, and then Te Ka at the end of the movie, which a a lava monster. Also apparently an army of coconuts? Is that actually a thing?
The movie itself, like a lot of recent Disney movies, have a strong focus on the main characters, to the point that the minor characters feel generic by comparison, including the "villains". But I will admit that the two leads, Moana and Maui, are strong characters, they're enjoyable to watch on screen, but I will get back to them in a second. One thing I do want to bring up is characters who are only there to be comic relief. One thing that I find weird is how Disney now are handling them. In cases like Wreck it Ralph (I'm getting to it) and Big Hero 6, the comedy relief feels integrated into the movie, and to remove it would be taking out something needed in the movie. By comparison, Olaf from Frozen feels forced in. Moana, has both extremes. On the one hand, you have the chicken I mentioned earlier which is so brain dead you wish it was eaten to put it out of its misery. On the other, you have Maui's living tapestry, and a mini Maui and the ocean (I wasn't kidding) who's comedy doesn't just come from them, but how the rest of the cast react to them. Such as the Mini Maui keeping a score of the amount of times Moana has beaten Maui in some form, and the ocean constantly putting things like Moana and the chicken back on the boat (that last one I wish it hadn't). TL:DR, the chicken's useless.
Presentation wise, this movie looks beautiful, and sounds amazing. Visually, this is one of the best 3D animated movies I've seen in a while and the soundtrack is one of the best Disney has made in a while overall, at least to me. There is a visual style in this movie which is something a lot of 3D animated movies seem to forget they need, probably the best way I could put it is that its like a modern Pocahontas, in that it embraces the culture's visual style. Some good ways of seeing it are in the music, with songs like You're Welcome, How Far I'll go, We Know the Way and I am Moana being excellent examples. They are great moments for Maui and Moana to show their personalities, and my personal favorite songs in the soundtrack. I will bring up that You're Welcome has been used as an example of why you shouldn't make bad singers sing in movies, but one thing that separates The Rock and Emma Watson is just charm, and its why I like You're Welcome over the songs in the Beauty and the Beast remake. He might not be a great singer, but it still pulls you in thanks to the visuals, and the charm of the character. Watson sounds robotic in Beauty and the Beast, and you can't deny that there is a clear difference between the original and the remake.
Moana feels like a movie from Disney's last renaissance, and to me a better representation of what they can do in the modern era with those kinds of stories then their live action movies. It's not perfect, take the afore mentioned chicken as an example of that, but for what little it does wrong, it does a lot more right. Next week its the Heart Gold/ Soul Silver arc, then... well lets just say I died a little inside when looking at a movie schedule for next year, and to same my self from doing 30-40 movies from one franchise next year, I'm going to be getting the jump on it in two phases. As to what that is, only one way to find out.