Review: Moana is an instant Disney all-time classic

Moana opens in New Zealand cinemas this week
Moana opens in New Zealand cinemas this week

Disney does it again.

From the directors behind timeless classics The Little Mermaid and Aladdin comes a new Disney fairytale and based on my first screening, Moana will be a classic in our household too.

First thing's first: there's no way I can review this as anything but a New Zealander; a grateful and connected resident of Aotearoa and it's extended Pacific Island whanau. Disney has gifted us in particular a story which will resonate even more than it will anywhere else in the world.

The team behind the film had a wonderful thing to say, too - something they in turn were told during their research in Fiji, Samoa, Tahiti and New Zealand for the film: "The ocean doesn't separate our islands, it connects them".

Moana is full of Pasifika legend; the story pulls strands from here-and-there to weave together a fresh, inspirational and hugely entertaining family adventure which filled me with joy.

Our story begins on the small idyllic island of Motunui, nestled somewhere in the South Pacific about 2000 years ago.

Moana (Auli"i Cravalho) is the daughter of Chief Tui (Temuera Morrison), and soon to be chief of the village herself. But the ocean has been calling her ever since she was a cheerful chubby little toddler, her eyes constantly gazing beyond the reef.

Voyaging is in her blood, but for reasons unknown to her, her father keeps her tied to terra firma; convinced his people will stay safe and thrive by staying exactly where they are.

But there is darkness spreading. Demi-god Maui (Dwayne Johnson) has been a bad, bad boy, and his recklessness soon washes up on Motunui's pristine shores.

The fish disappear, their crops rot in the ground and Moana knows she must risk everything to save her village. And with the help of Gramma Tala (Rachel House), the self-proclaimed resident 'crazy lady', Moana finally gets her wish.

This isn't just a Disney movie, it's a Disney musical, and it certainly doesn't disappoint on that front either.

The hottest ticket on Broadway and beyond right now is Pulitzer, Grammy, Tony and Emmy award-winning musician Lin Manuel Miranda. Along with the talented Mark Mancina (The Lion King) and Samoan musician Opetaia Foa'i, they form a collective chorus that hits exactly the right note, bringing the intrinsic flavour of the pacific to the masses in an incredibly catchy and memorable way.

They even managed to get The Rock to sing, and I dare you not to be humming 'You're Welcome' for days after watching.

There are many reasons why Moana feels so fresh, and here's the obvious one. The titular feisty little South Pacific adventurer will charm every creature she encounters during this film, including the odd demi-god; but at no point do the filmmakers see the need for her to "fall in love" - the perennially clichéd happy fairytale ending.

Oh how fabulously refreshing! But fear not romantics - if falling in love really is your thing, you may soon find yourself falling head over heels for Moana. I certainly did.

Five stars.

     Moana:: Directors: Ron Clements, John Musker :: Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Auli'i Cravalho, Alan Tudyk, Nicole Scherzinger, Jemaine Clement, Temuera Morrison, Rachel House:: Running Time: 113 minutes:: Release Date: December 26, 2016