Remember the critics’ reactions to Storks and The Secret Life of Pets (“It’s ok.”)? Well, that is about all I have to say about Moana.
Despite the fact that it is finals week, that had very little to do with my feelings to this movie. Also, I was not as impressed with this movie’s cultural setting as much as everyone else. You can attribute that to the fact that Lilo and Stitch (to me) is a much better film and was released in 2002. Not to say that Moana doesn’t have its redeemable qualities. The voice acting is earnest, the animation is some of the best of 2016, and the music/songs are amazing. Sadly, this movie feels like your typical Disney princess fairy tale cleverly disguised with different cultures and fantasy elements.
Supposedly, this movie was going to be entirely about Maui, a demigod voiced by Dwayne Johnson (who is the best thing about the movie). For some reason, they decided to add a princess (Moana) and make her the main character. Why? Either Disney executives made this decision because it would be more marketable, or because directors Ron Clements/John Musker brought us Princess Ariel, Princess Jasmine, and Princess Tiana (old habits). Whatever the reason, Moana is way too familiar on a story level, especially with the characters. For example, Moana herself is unhappy with her royal position in society, she desires to explore nations outside of her home, and she has a marketably adorable pet. If even one of those traits reminds you of another Disney movie, then you have seen this character before, and since the movie wants you to care about here (like, reeeeealy care about her), it is very difficult.
By no means do I think this is a bad movie, but more effort needed to be put into the writing. The humor was not nearly as good as it should have been, the climax is cheesy, and the second act “adventure” part of the movie didn’t feel that epic. Even though Moana and Maui’s fun interactions kept me interested, it is not enough to make up for a copy-paste formula. Moana gets Guy’s Guru Grade of a B.