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Moana

Year: 2016
Studio: Disney
Director: John Musker/Ron Clements
Writer: John Musker/Ron Clements/Jared Bush/Chris Williams
Cast: Auli'i Cravalho, Dwayne Johnson, Temuera Morrison, Jemaine Clement, Alan Tudyk

The billion dollar comeback of Disney Animation (as opposed to the other Disney divisions which are also raking in billions) continues, with another entry that had toes tapping, cash registers ringing and will be riding DVD players worldwide hard for years to come.

For all the lack of originality in Hollywood storytelling, Moana is an example of the wealth of creativity in every other cinema art. Every inch of every frame has been planned, designed, programmed and rendered flawlessly, and it's even more of a creative achievement than usual because of how much of the running time shows elements that are traditionally the hardest to get right in computer animation.

First, there's water in almost every scene, and it appears in every possible guise from gently lolling and lapping waves on a beach to enormous churning seas crashing under storm clouds. Second, both Moana (Auli'i Cravalho) and Maui (Dwayne Johnson) have long, curly and flowing hair that moves with the wind, the sea and their bodies just as realistically as the movement of the water.

The story, however, is the same archetype about leaving home and hearth and seeing the world we've seen everywhere from The Wizard of Oz to Star Wars. Moana is the daughter of a Polynesian chieftain in ancient times when legends that her people were once explorers are dismissed as the ramblings of crackpots (most notably her beloved storyteller grandmother).

Even while some mysterious blight slowly kills the land around them, everyone else is telling her how dangerous it is to go beyond the reef and how their place is at home on their island.

Moana doesn't believe a word of it – since she was a baby and the ocean (portrayed as a living thing in the movie) seems to select her for special friendship, she's felt the call of the world beyond. So when she discovers a huge cave full of the ships her ancestors used to travel, explore, trade and settle the islands of the South Pacific, she knows she has to go.

Her target is the heart of Te Fiti, a mysterious stone that was stolen by the demigod Maui. If Moana can track Maui down and convince him to restore the stone to the island it came from, things will be put right and the lands will recover.

But when she finds him, the tattoo-sporting, shape-shifting demigod turns out to be a self-involved blowhard who isn't inclined to help her. Moana talks/forces him into it and the two set sail, along with that most Disney of fixtures, an animal sidekick in the form of a delightfully stupid chicken called Hei Hei (voiced by Alan Tudyk in the credits, though I'm not sure how as the chicken doesn't speak).

Proving that cinema is a visual medium, the text hardly matters – you've seen this story a hundred times (in fact Disney are the most opportune purveyors of it everywhere from Dumbo to Toy Story). Moana is all about the image. From the Bratz-like face of the heroine to the action figure physique of the demigod, everything is meticulously designed, beautifully executed and looks completely real, like two dolls were on a real ocean voyage.

It's also a very clever way of tapping into the current zeitgeist where we're supposed to be demanding more strong, independent female characters. Moana's like an ancient South Pacific Princess Leia, as feisty as she is pretty.

But the piece of trivia about the world Disney operates in that really piqued my interest was the one where they had to rename the movie in Italy because Moana was the name of a famous porn actress.

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