Disney has done some incredible animated movies -- and that tradition continues with Moana.  This movie has action, humor, positive characters, and a South Pacific feel throughout.

Moana starts with a legend.  In ancient times, the ancient shape-shifting demigod Maui stole the mystical heart of the island goddess Te Fiti.  Then the lava demon Te Ka attacked, sending the heart into the ocean, along with Maui's magical fishhook that allows him to change into different animals.  A darkness also spread from where the theft took place, causing animals to die and crops to fail.
Jump to the present, where Moana Waialiki (Auli'l Cravalho) is conflicted.  She's always been drawn to the ocean and wants to explore beyond her island home, but her father, the Chief of the island, wants her to stay and become the next Chief; he also forbids anyone  -- especially Moana, from traveling beyond the reef.  When the darkness reaches their island, Moana believes the solution to the lack of fish is to travel beyond the reef.  Her father forbids it, but her "crazy island" Grandmother Tala (Rachel House) gives Moana the heart and has a different solution: Find Maui, give him the heart, and have him return it to Te Fiti to dispel the darkness.  As Tala is dying, Moana grabs a boat and sets sail, along with her somewhat dim rooster Heihei (Alan Tudyk).

Moana was chosen by the sea, meaning the ocean sometimes helps her.  In no time at all she finds Maui (Dwayne Johnson), who's been stranded on an island.  He's pretty arrogant (claiming he gave humanity almost all of its benefits) and condescending, but agrees to help Moana -- after they retrieve his magic fishhook -- for the fame.  Along the way they face coconut pirates (meaning sentient and evil coconuts), the glittering giant crab Tamatoa (Jermaine Clement) and his realm of monsters, and finally the lava demon Te Ka.
There is so much to like about Moana.  The animation is absolutely beautiful, from the pristine ocean waters to Maui's living and moving tattoos to the glowing world of Tamatoa that works as a tribute to David Bowie.  Dwayne Johnson and Auli'l Cravalho do great voice work, and their characters are delightful: Maui is a reluctant hero, but he's also comically egotistical and enthusiastic, while Moana is both respectful and independent.  There aren't too many or too distracting musical numbers, and the ones that are here sound great.  And there are plenty of laughs for young and old alike.  Moana is a really great adventure.
Overall grade: A
Reviewed by James Lynch

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