Many formulas are formulas for the very good reason that they work, and that includes the Disney animated musical. Returning to a format that has served the Mouse well for most of the past 27 years, Disney builds a story around a teenage Polynesian chieftain’s daughter named Moana (Auli’i Cravalho), who recognizes the peril facing her island home and sets out on the sea to find the lost demigod Maui (Dwayne Johnson), who has the ability to save it. Directors John Musker and Ron Clements (The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, Hercules) build a self-aware joke out of Maui’s observation to Moana that “if you wear a dress, and you have an animal sidekick, you’re a princess,” while also making the unique decision to avoid any romantic interest and build Moana’s character exclusively around her hero journey. But the filmmakers also understand the value of great songs, with Lin-Manuel Miranda and Mark Mancina contributing to a powerful, satisfying soundtrack. While Johnson’s charms help lift a story that’s familiar in its drama-to-comedy-to-music beats, this is a Disney animated musical that could have been designed around a checklist—and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
Director: John Musker and Ron Clements
Producer: Osnat Shurer and John Lasseter
Cast: Dwayne Johnson, Auli'i Cravalho, Rachel House, Temuera Morrison, Jemaine Clement, Nicole Scherzinger, Alan Tudyk and Oscar Kightley