Ranking the Disney Animated Canon, Part 7






Part 6 here

#15. Moana


The Disney Revival shows no signs of slowing down. Here is another gem from John Musker and Ron Clements. I almost feel bad about putting this one here because doing so knocks Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs out of the top 20, but it’s just so good I have to! It’s already a box office success and has a well-deserved 98% on Rotten Tomatoes. I obviously don’t think it’s as good as Frozen, but if it did end up breaking Frozen’s box office record, I wouldn’t be upset. I hope this movie is nominated for and wins the Oscars for Best Animated Feature, Best Original Song, and Best Original Score.

The story is just excellent. This is currently the second-longest film in the canon, and they used the time to tell the story right. Like every other movie in the canon since the purchase of Pixar (save Tangled and Winnie the Pooh) it had me close to tears. Maui (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson) is a demigod that steals the heart of the island goddess Te Fiti in order to give mortals the power of creation. Doing so unleashes the lava demon Te Kā, and during a battle Maui loses both the heart of Te Fiti and his magic fishhook (the source of his powers) to the sea. Te Kā’s presence causes a darkness that slowly envelops and kills life on the planet. 1000 years later the ocean chooses the toddler Moana to return the heart of Te Fiti and undo the curse. When she comes of age the darkness begins to reach the island of Motunui (which sounds a lot like Mata Nui and reminded me of Bionicle, so props for that) killing the coconut trees and driving away the fish. Her grandmother (Rachel House) reveals to Moana (Auli’i Cravalho) that the ocean chose her, and, after she dies, Moana sets out on her quest against her father’s (Temuera Morrison, singing by Christopher Jackson) wishes. She finds Maui, who initially tries to leave her behind, but when the ocean won’t let him, he agrees to help her. The two go to Lalotai (the Realm of Monsters) to retrieve Maui’s magic fishhook from Tamatoa (Jemaine Clement), a giant crab. After retrieving the hook the two voyage to Te Fiti and confront Te Kā. After seeing the island isn’t there Moana realizes that Te Kā is Te Fiti, and is able to calm the demon and restore the heart. Doing so restores Te Fiti and undoes the curse. Moana returns to Motunui and leads her people out on the sea as they become voyagers again, and Maui takes off on his own adventures. This movie has a lot of great action sequences and plenty of humor. Best of all, there is absolutely no romantic subplot!

The characters are all enjoyable and there is real development that goes on. Moana and Maui play well off each other. The combination of humorous and serious interactions really illuminates the development of their friendship. Both are complex, and Maui has a sad back-story that really makes one sympathize. Moana’s father, Tui, is Tritonesque[1] in his prohibition of travel beyond the reef, but he has a real—and tragic—reason for doing so. Gramma Tala is just great. She calls to mind Grandmother Fa and provides a lot of laughs as the village crazy lady (her words). She really cares for Moana and helps her realize her dreams. It’s clear they have a very close relationship, which is why the scenes where she dies and later when Moana converses with her spirit were so hard to watch and had me on the verge of tears. That hit way too close to home. Moana’s rooster Heihei (Alan Tudyk) stows away on her raft and he provides a lot of comic relief. I think Ron Clements’ description of him as “the dumbest character in the history of Disney animation” is spot on. Tamatoa is an interesting villain. He’s not the most threating antagonist ever, but he is entertaining, especially in the post-credits scene. I mentioned in the reviews for Big Hero 6 and Zootopia that I worried they were overdoing the reveal the true villain at the end plot twist. Well, this time I was genuinely surprised that Te Kā is just a corrupted Te Fiti. I did not see it coming, and looking back I think I really should have and I missed an obvious clue. Maybe I was too busy enjoying the move to notice, which is fine with me! Also, Troy Polamalu has a cameo voicing a villager, which I think means this is the first time an Orthodox Christian has voiced a character in the Disney Animated Canon.[2]

The animation is the same stunning, quality CGI seen in the last several films. I especially enjoyed the mixing of animation styles in “You’re Welcome.” The music is superb. The songs are done by Opetaia Foa’i, Mark Mancina, and Lin-Manuel Miranda (of Hamilton: An American Musical fame), and they did an excellent job. The movie begins with chanting in Tokelauan, calling to mind the Hawaiian in Lilo & Stitch, Zulu in The Lion King, and Saami in Frozen. It’s a nice touch, and Tokelauan is interspersed throughout the movie, much like the Zulu in The Lion King. It really sells the movie’s atmosphere. “Where You Are” is a great exposition song, and reminds me quite a bit of “Belle.” “How Far I’ll Go” is an excellent character development song and a strong contender for my favorite in the movie. The one it most reminds me of is “Go the Distance.” “We Know the Way” is quite good. “You’re Welcome” is as catchy as it is funny, and might be my favorite song in the movie. “Shiny” is the villain song and movie’s musical weak point; since it’s a disappointing song in a movie with a great soundtrack I suppose this could be called Moana’s “Fixer Upper.” I don’t know what it is, but it seems like it just doesn’t fit with the rest of the movie. It just sounds, well, off. “I Am Moana (Song of the Ancestors)” is a bit of a reprise of “How Far I’ll Go” and it’s really good. The fact that she sings it after taking with her deceased grandma’s spirit makes it feel like there’s some real heart behind it. It fits so well. “Know Who You Are” is what Moana sings to calm Te Kā and it really fits the situation.

Overall this is just a great movie. It’s amazing how different I felt after this one when compared to how I did after Zootopia. I can’t emphasize enough what a worthy addition to the canon this is. It has an excellent story, memorable characters, eye-popping animation, and a fantastic soundtrack. Eventually we will reach this cycle’s Pocahontas, but Moana isn’t it. Congratulations on another job well done, WDAS!

Here’s the updated list:

  1. The Hunchback of Notre Dame
  2. The Lion King
  3. Frozen
  4. Aladdin
  5. The Jungle Book
  6. Robin Hood
  7. Fantasia
  8. Beauty and the Beast
  9. The Little Mermaid
  10. Mulan
  11. Big Hero 6
  12. Hercules
  13. Peter Pan
  14. Tarzan
  15. Moana
  16. Pinocchio
  17. One Hundred and One Dalmatians
  18. Lady and the Tramp
  19. The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh
  20. Sleeping Beauty
  21. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
  22. Cinderella
  23. Wreck-It Ralph
  24. Lilo & Stitch
  25. Zootopia
  26. The Rescuers Down Under
  27. The Great Mouse Detective
  28. The Fox and the Hound
  29. The Princess and the Frog
  30. Tangled
  31. Fantasia 2000
  32. The Rescuers
  33. Meet the Robinsons
  34. Bolt
  35. The Emperor’s New Groove
  36. The Sword in the Stone
  37. The Aristocats
  38. Winnie the Pooh
  39. Oliver & Company
  40. The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad
  41. Alice in Wonderland
  42. Dinosaur
  43. Brother Bear
  44. Pocahontas
  45. Atlantis: The Lost Empire
  46. Bambi
  47. Dumbo
  48. Saludos Amigos
  49. Melody Time
  50. Make Mine Music
  51. Fun and Fancy Free
  52. The Three Caballeros
  53. Treasure Planet
  54. The Black Cauldron
  55. Home on the Range
  56. Chicken Little

[1] As always, I don’t care that it’s not a real word.

[2] No, Tom Hanks voicing Woody in the Toy Story movies doesn’t count. Those are Pixar movies, so they’re not part of the canon.

Ranking the Disney Animated Canon, Part 7