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Film Review: Moana

Updated on January 9, 2017
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Jason Wheeler is the Senior Writer and Editor at Film Frenzy. He reviews films from across the cinematic landscape.


In 2016, Ron Clements and John Musker released Moana. Starring Auli’I Cravalho, Dwayne Johnson, Rachel House, Temuera Morrison, Jemaine Clement, Nicole Scherzinger, Alan Tudyk, Oscar Kightley, Troy Polamalu, and Puanani Cravalho, the film has grossed $450.1 million as of January 8, 2017.


Moana Waialiki is set to be the next leader of her tribe living on a Polynesian island, but crops start failing and fish are fleeing the surrounding waters. Moana believes the islands troubles are connected to legends of encroaching darkness. The ocean recognizes her compassion and wanderlust and gives her the lost heart of Te Fiti, causing Moana to embark across the seas to find Maui and return the heart before the darkness destroys all life.


Beautifully animated, Moana is a decent film following the titular Moana on her voyage across the ocean. It’s a good story, with Moana called by the ocean and urged to go by her grandmother while her father is afraid of her making the same mistakes he did. After she leaves the island, the film carries all the hallmarks of a road trip movie, just out in the middle of the ocean instead of on land. She finds Maui, has a few encounters with some strange creatures, overcomes adversity and discovers who she truly is as a person and saves the world. The film doesn’t have a true villain either, though there are antagonists who show up for a scene to make the journey more difficult for Moana and Maui, such as the Kakamora and Tomatoa.

A fascinating aspect to this film is its deconstruction and reconstruction of the notion of a “chosen one.” At first, the film sets Moana as a straight example, utilizing the myth that the ocean will select a chosen one to find Maui and return Te Fiti’s heart. This is immediately before the sea literally chooses her as a toddler. Yet, once she meets Maui, he constantly mocks her and says the ocean has chosen wrong, she’s not up for the task and that just because she is the chosen one, it doesn’t mean she’s able to do what she’s chosen for especially since she doesn’t know anything about sailing. However, when Maui leaves, the film rebuilds the idea upon Moana realizing it doesn’t matter who or what chose her for the task as long as she chooses to continue her journey and not let anything stop her.

This is consistent with the character development she gets as well. In the first few scenes on the island, she is torn between obeying her father and following in his footsteps to be the island’s chief and her wanderlust, a desire her grandmother encourages her to choose. Throughout the adventure, Moana discovers herself and realizes no one can define who she is because only she can do that. As such, she learns her loyalties don’t lie completely to the ocean or her people but herself. In figuring this out, she’s able to combine the two things she loves the most and reunite her people with the sea. Moana’s character is defined as courageous, compassionate and connected to the ocean and all the legends when her grandmother tells a story of gods and monsters and where all the other children become distressed, she’s smiling and attentive.

Alongside Moana, Maui is also a good character. In his introduction, he comes off as egotistical and full of himself. As the film progresses, it’s revealed his parents didn’t want him and threw him into the ocean. This gave him insecurities he hides with the egotistical personality. Nevertheless, like Moana, Maui grows as a character, going from believing he’s nothing without the fish hook to realizing the hook is merely an accessory and his accomplishments over the millennia resulted from his own selflessness and bravery.

3 stars for Moana

the postings on this site are my own and don't necessarily represent WNI's positions, strategies or opinion

Awards won

Alliance of Women Film Journalists EDA Female Focus Award

  • Best Animated Female (Auli'i Cravalho)

Dallas-Fort Worth Film Critics Association Awards

  • Third Place - Best Animated Film

Heartland Film Awards

  • Truly Moving Picture Award

Nevada Film Critics Society Awards

  • Best Animated Film

Utah Film Critics Association Awards

  • Second Place - Best Animated Feature Film

Women Film Critics Circle Awards

  • Best Animated Female

Nominated for

Golden Globe Awards

  • Best Original Song - Motion Picture (For the song: "How Far I'll Go.")
  • Best Motion Picture - Aniamted

AARP Movies for Grownups Awards

  • Best Movie for Grownups Who Refuse to Grow Up

Alliance of Women Film Journalists EDA Awards

  • Best Animated Feature Film

Animated Cinema Editors Eddie Awards

  • Best Edited Animated Feature Film

Annie Awards

  • Best Animated Feature
  • Outstanding Achievement in Animated Effects in an Animated Production
  • Outstanding Achievement in Character Design in an Animated Feature Production
  • Outstanding Achievement in Storyboarding in an Animated Feature Production
  • Outstanding Achievement in Voice-Acting in an Animated Feature Production (Auli'i Cravalho)
  • Outstanding Achievement in Editorial in an Animated Feature Production

Austin Film Critics Association Awards

  • Best Animated Film

Black Reel Awards

  • Outstanding Voice Performance (Dwayne Johnson)

Broadcast Film Critics Association Awards

  • Best Animated Feature

Casting Society of America Artios Awards

  • Outstanding Achievement in Casting - Animation Feature

Central Ohio Film Critics Association Awards

  • Best Animated Film

Chicago Film Critics Association Awards

  • Best Animated Feature

Florida Film Critics Circle Awards

  • Best Animated Film

Hollywood Music in Media Awards

  • Best Original Score - Animated Film
  • Best Original Song - Animated Film (For the song: "We Know the Way.")

Houston Film Society Awards

  • Best Original Song (For the song "How Far I'll Go.")

Image Awards

  • Outstanding Character Voice-Over Performance (Television or Film) (Dwayne Johnson)

Las Vegas Film Critics Society Sierra Award

  • Best Song (For the song "How Far I'll Go.")
  • Best Animated Film
  • Best Family Film

North Carolina Film Critics Association Awards

  • Best Animated Film

Online Film Critics Society Awards

  • Best Animated Feature

Phoenix Critics Circle Awards

  • Best Animated Film

Phoenix Film Critics Society Awards

  • Best Animated Film
  • Best Original Song (Song: "How Far I'll Go.")

San Diego Film Critics Society Awards

  • Best Animated Film

San Francisco Film Critics Circle Awards

  • Best Animated Feature

Satellite Awards

  • Best Animated Feature

St. Louis Film Critics Association Awards

  • Best Song (For the song "How Far I'll Go.")
  • Best Song (For the song "You're Welcome.")
  • Best Soundtrack
  • Best Animated Feature Film
  • Best Animated Feature

Washington DC Area Film Critics Association Awards

  • Best Animated Feature
  • Best Voice Performance (Auli'i Cravalho)


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