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Disney’s “Moana”  is Your Family’s Island Holiday Getaway

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Want to escape to a lush island wonderland of crystal blue waters and brilliant carpets of exotic flowers? Craving a bit a peril with a supernatural friends and foes? When you consider a coconut in King Soopers produce department, do you ever daydream it is a fearsome killing machine?

Disney Animation’s Thanksgiving gift to your family is a huge platter of all of the above, dressed with catchy, clever songs and jaw-dropping animation. “Moana” hits theaters today like a choice wave. “Moana” is a beautifully crafted family movie that transports and immerses viewers in a fresh story. It’s likely you and your family aren’t experts in Pacific Islander history and tradition so the adventure that unfolds isn’t tired or rehashed.

In fact, “Moana” revels in poking a bit of fun at the Disney Princess tradition even as they set another fascinating female hero upon a journey. Auli’i Cravalho capably voices Moana’s broad range of emotion and experience, from unsure girl to brave leader. Through songs and humorous bits to the height of battle, Cravalho creates a believably determined Moana who is guaranteed to make you see the whole princess craze in a whole new way. Of course, there are show-stopping soaring songs (co-written by “Hamilton’s” Lin-Manuel Miranda) we have come to expect, especially when belted out by a female lead. Is “How Far I’ll Go” the new “Let it Go”?

Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson is tasked with voicing the endlessly entertaining (and secretly deep) demi-god Maui to life. Maui is mischievous and childlike in many ways, and Johnson captures that spirit of fun and abandon. Did you know he could sing, too? The hilariously educational song “You’re Welcome” serves as Maui’s memorable introduction as his tattoos dance and scamp around his skin. Clever touches like Maui’s smarty-pants tattoos are one of the things that makes “Moana” such a feast.

Minor characters aren’t afterthoughts or springboards for the main characters. They are fleshed out and entertaining, too. Jemaine Clement of “Flight of the Conchords” fame voices the bizarre and almost indescribable Tamatoa, a very large crustacean with very large greed and an equally bizarre song called “Shiny”. As the latest Disney crab, he’s no Sebastian. Make sure you stay through the credits to get one more glimpse of this slice of delightfully weird.

“Moana” would be nothing without a compelling story. She needs Maui’s help and he needs hers as well. They bicker with each other. They impress each other. They save each other. Like most family animated films, themes of friendship and bravery remain central. Reinforcing these ideals is a joy when it’s wrapped in stunning—truly stunning—animation. The detail is at a whole new level. Just when it seems animation can’t get any better, it does. It’s more lifelike than life. A good way to take an inexpensive island trip this holiday season is to slide on a pair of 3D glasses and sink into your seat.
A word of warning for parents of small children. There are some scary characters, including a fire demon that make me shudder a bit because it was so stellarly animated. Those are small parts of the film, though, and it will leave them with sweet island dreams.
“Moana” opens everywhere on November 23, 2016. It is rated PG.
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