Moana Review Roundup: Disney's Polynesian Princess Movie Is a "Tropical Frozen"

Meet Moana.

Walt Disney Animation Studios introduces its newest princess Wednesday in Moana. The CG-animated movie follows the adventurous teen (Auli’i Cravalho) as she sails out on a daring mission to save her people and find her identity. Along the way, Moana meets the once-mighty demigod Maui (Dwayne Johnson), who guides her in her quest to become a master wayfinder. Together, the unlikely duo sails across the open ocean, encountering monsters and much more.

Directed by Ron Clements and John Musker (the creative forces behind Disney’s The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, Hercules, Treasure Planet and The Princess and The Frog), Moana features new music from Opetaia Foa’I, Mark Mancina and Lin-Manuel Miranda. Jemaine Clement, Rachel House, Temuera Morrison, Nicole Scherzinger and Alan Tudyk round out the cast.

Moana is rated PG.

Here’s what critics are saying about the movie:

• “Moana has the appeal of a princess and the heart of a warrior. In other words, she’s less a Sleeping Beauty than a South Pacific Mulan,” The Washington Post‘s Caitlin Moore writes. While a “showboating” Maui is intended as comic relief, “it’s Moana who holds your interest.”

• “Appealing equally to the eyes, ears, heart and funny bone, Moana represents contemporary Disney at its finest—a vibrantly rendered adventure that combines state-of-the-art CG animation with traditional storytelling and colorful characters, all enlivened by a terrific voice cast,” The Hollywood Reporter‘s Michael Rechtshaffen writes. Between the visuals and the music, “You’ve got a tropical Frozen with the potential for a similarly wide-reaching audience.”

• “The title heroine of Disney’s animated extravaganza Moana is like a refreshing sea breeze,” USA Today‘s Brian Truitt writes, noting that “there are no princes or other square-jawed hunks for her to pine after…So what if she’d rather be a sailor than a princess? Moana still rules.”

• “Not only does Moana feel like a worthy successor to Disney’s most beloved animated classics, but it pushes the genre into 2016, introducing a smart, diverse, and convincing heroine who struggles against lava monsters and self-doubt,” Entertainment Weekly‘s Devan Coggan writes. “Moana has a lot of the hallmarks of your classic Disney adventure—the goofy animal sidekicks, the feel-good messages—but its heroine is something new, a smart and fiery deviation from your standard European lovestruck princesses. (Thankfully, Moana doesn’t have a love interest.) The result is a pitch-perfect addition to the animated Disney canon.”

• “More than Tangled, more than Frozen, Moana keeps with the tradition that made Disney the leader in animated fairy and folk tales, and yet, showing a thoroughly modern touch, it’s the first to do so without so much as suggesting a love interest,” Variety‘s Peter Debruge writes. “But the only force Moana answers to is the ocean itself, which behaves quite unexpectedly in an early scene, pulling back the water’s edge so that she can amble in over her head, peering at the sea life all around her…It’s a magical moment, and one that endears us to both Moana and the ocean for the rest of the film. As if witnessing Buzz Aldrin stare out into space as a child, we’re afforded the opportunity to see an explorer make first contact with her destiny.”

• “Unwilling to fix what ain’t broke, Disney hews pretty closely to their usual narrative structure in Moana, while at the same time further expanding their geographical boundaries far from the original Germanic fairy tales that provided the studio’s stories for so many decades. Rather than revel in the South Seas kitsch that gave us the Enchanted Tiki Room, this adventure pays fitting tribute to both the natural beauty and the creation myths of the Pacific Islands,” The Wrap‘s Alonso Duralde writes. “If you don’t mind Disney’s business as usual dressed up with a little hibiscus, then you’ll enjoy this latest journey of self-discovery.”

• “There’s something especially tinny and packaged about Moana, gorgeous as it is to look at, bouncy as its humor may be…Watching Moana, you don’t feel giddy about there being another Disney princess to install in the canon so much as you question the very nature of the princess film,” Vanity Fair‘s Richard Lawson writes, adding that it “feels so shaped by so many hands, so caressed into a perfect, palatable form that even all its wit and inventiveness—and there is plenty of that, from Maui’s anthropomorphized tattoos to that wacky chicken—seems canned.”

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