Joyful rites-of-passage animation celebrates girl power in Polynesia

Still from Moana PA/Disney

Still from Moana PA/Disney

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MOANA (PG, 113 mins) Animation/Musical/Drama/Comedy. Featuring the voices of Auli’i Cravalho, Dwayne Johnson, Rachel House, Temuera Morrison, Jemaine Clement, Nicole Scherzinger, Alan Tudyk. Directors: Ron Clements, John Musker.

Released: December 2 (UK & Ireland)

The female empowerment of Frozen gets a colourful Polynesian makeover in the joyful rites-of-passage animation Moana, peppered with infectious songs composed by Lin-Manuel Miranda, Opetaia Foa’i and Mark Mancina.

Directors Ron Clements and John Musker, who previously fashioned The Little Mermaid and Aladdin, rediscover their golden touch on land and at sea, with breathtaking visuals including dazzling water effects.

They also wedge tongues firmly in cheek by poking fun at the lead character’s stern assertion that she isn’t an archetypal Disney heroine.

“If you wear a dress and have an animal sidekick, you’re a princess,” quips a demi-god, who joins her on this memorable odyssey into the magical unknown.

The key message of Frozen - that girls don’t need a handsome prince to achieve their happily ever after - is reaffirmed and the script incorporates the now obligatory smattering of pop culture references, like when the same demi-god scrawls a message with a rooster and deadpans, “When you write with a bird, it’s called tweeting!”

The songbook might lack a karaoke earworm akin to Let It Go - parents, you can breathe easy - but the film still boasts some terrific compositions, particularly the solo offerings of Miranda, who won numerous Tony awards for the musical Hamilton.

Moana Waialiki (voiced by Auli’i Cravalho) is the daughter of Chief Tui (Temuera Morrison) and has been groomed since birth to lead her people on the island of Motunui.

However, she feels a strong calling to the sea which angers her father, who believes the tropical paradise can sustain their tribe.

Moana’s wise grandmother Tala (Rachel House) fills the girl’s head with wild stories about the demi-god Maui, who stole the heart of the island goddess Te Fiti and lost this precious green stone during a battle with ferocious lava demon Te Ka.

The old woman encourages Moana to seek out Maui and restore Te Fiti’s missing heart in order to bring prosperity to the island. With the wind in her sail and a witless rooster called Heihei (Alan Tudyk) by her side, Moana ventures over the reef for the first time in search of Maui (Dwayne Johnson). Moana is another solid gold hit from Disney’s animation studio, marrying self-realisation and broad comedy to dizzying effect.

A trippy interlude with a singing coconut crab (Jemaine Clement) in the underwater Realm of the Monsters is a highlight, including one groovy lyric that rhymes demi-god with decapod.

Johnson embraces his role with comic gusto, including a fine rendition of the self-congratulatory anthem You’re Welcome, and Cravalho imbues her gung-ho seafarer with tenderness and determination.

Moana is preceded by Leo Matsuda’s exquisite animated short Inner Workings, which journeys inside the body of one hapless office worker to explore the literal battle between head and heart for supremacy.

RATING: 8/10