Review: ‘Moana’s’ crisp visuals create island paradise

Disney’s first musical since ‘Frozen’ heads to the islands, but its story feels grounded in the familiar

Adam Graham
The Detroit News

In “Moana,” the ocean water sparkles like the ocean water of your dreams. It is stunningly rendered in crystal clear 3D, and it’s so inviting you want to reach out and touch it or have it lap gently over your feet.

The ocean is a key character in “Moana,” Disney’s first animated musical since “Frozen.” The Polynesian-set adventure logs some of the best visuals Disney has ever produced, which help offset a story that’s long on set-up and short on delivery and has songs that quickly fade from memory.

Moana (Auli’I Cravalho) is a 16-year-old on Motunui Island who is deeply drawn to the water, despite the orders of her father to stick to the shoreline. But she follows her calling and sets sail in search of Maui (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson), the cocky ancient demigod who helps her return a magical stone, the Heart of Te Fiti, to its rightful place and save her people.

“Moana’s” strengths are in its details. Maui’s chest and back are covered in tattoos that come alive and help tell the story, a sort of living comic strip as body art. And Moana and Maui do battle with a fiery island monster that is a marvel to look at and resembles the big, bad final boss of a video game.

However the story, while steeped in island mythology and tradition, feels recycled from earlier Disney properties. And the songs, from “Hamilton’s” Lin-Manuel Miranda and others, don’t stick; nothing here is poised to be the new “Let It Go.” (The best of the bunch, “Shiny,” is the theme song of a giant crab voiced by Jemaine Clement.)

But “Moana” looks so crisp that the rest washes away. If movies are meant to be a getaway, “Moana” is like a vacation.


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Rated PG for peril, some scary images and brief thematic elements

Running time: 113 minutes