Movie Review: Disney’s Moana


Disney’s Moana is in theaters today, November 23rd! My 6 year old and I attended an early screening last week and we can’t wait to see it again with the rest of the family. In fact, we already have tickets for a weekend showing. From the animation to the character voices, Disney did good! Scroll down to see my movie review and to find out what age I recommend for this movie.



From Walt Disney Animation Studios comes “Moana,” a sweeping, CG-animated feature film about an adventurous teenager who sails out on a daring mission to save her people. “Moana is the 16-year-old daughter of the chief of Motunui,” says director Ron Clements. “She’s athletic, nimble, compassionate and incredibly smart. She has a never-say-die attitude and a profound connection to the ocean.”

“So it’s troubling to her, to say the least, that her people don’t go beyond the reef surrounding their island,” adds director John Musker. “They stay within the confines of that reef, and Moana doesn’t really understand why.”

The story is inspired in part by the oral histories of the people and cultures of Oceania. Three thousand years ago, Polynesian voyagers, the greatest navigators in the world, voyaged across the vast Pacific, discovering thousands of islands. But then, according to scholars, for approximately a millennium, their voyages stopped – and no one knows exactly why. “Navigation is such a big part of Pacific culture,” says Musker. “The ancient Polynesians found their way across the seas without the use of modern instruments, using their knowledge of nature, the stars, the waves and the currents.”


Adds Clements, “We heard many times that the ocean doesn’t separate the islands, it connects them. Voyaging is a real source of pride for Pacific Islanders, a part of their identity. They were, and continue to be, some of the greatest explorers of all time. What they did was quite sophisticated, borderline miraculous.” 

There are many theories, but no one is certain, about what may have led to this 1,000- year gap in exploration; this sparked the filmmakers’ imaginations. Says Musker, “In our story, our heroine, Moana, is at the heart of the rebirth of wayfinding.”

During her journey, Moana meets the mighty demigod Maui, a larger-than-life character who was inspired by multitudes of varied tales and legends about him throughout the Oceania region. Says Musker, “We were fascinated by the stories we read, the tales told to us by experts in the region. Maui was larger-than-life, a trickster and a shapeshifter. He could pull up whole islands from the sea with his fishhook; he had the power to slow down the sun. He is an incredible figure.”


Maui, who’s on his own journey of self-discovery, reluctantly guides Moana in her quest to become a master wayfinder and save her people. Together, they sail across the open ocean on an action-packed voyage, encountering enormous monsters and impossible odds, and along the way, Moana discovers the one thing she’s always sought: her own identity.

“It’s a story that takes place many, many years ago, but with a contemporary feel,” says producer Osnat Shurer. “Our hope as filmmakers has been to create a universal story that is also an homage to the beautiful people of the Pacific Islands who inspired us along this journey.”

Filmmakers cast newcomer Auli‘i Cravalho as the voice of Moana, and Dwayne Johnson (HBO’s “Ballers,” “Central Intelligence”) lends his voice to demigod Maui. The voice cast also includes Jemaine Clement (“The BFG,” “Despicable Me,” “Rio,” “Rio 2,” “What We Do in the Shadows,” Flight of the Conchords) as Tamatoa, a self-absorbed, 50-foot crab ; Rachel House (“Whale Rider,” “Hunt for Wilderpeople”) as Moana’s trusted Gramma Tala; Temuera Morrison (“Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones,” “Once Were Warriors,” “Six Days, Seven Nights”) as Moana’s no-nonsense father, Chief Tui; Alan Tudyk (“Zootopia,” “Wreck-It Ralph,” “Big Hero 6”) as the voice of dumb rooster Heihei; and Nicole Scherzinger (“Men in Black 3,” lead singer of The Pussycat Dolls) voices Moana’s playful and strong-willed mother, Sina. Helmed by Clements and Musker, the directing team behind “The Little Mermaid,” “Aladdin” “The Princess & the Frog,” and produced by Shurer (“Lifted,” “One Man Band”), “Moana” features music from a diverse and dynamic team that includes Tony®-winner Lin-Manuel Miranda (Broadway’s Pulitzer Prize-winning and multiple Tony-winning “Hamilton,” Tony-winning “In the Heights”), Grammy®-winning composer Mark Mancina (“Speed,” “Tarzan” “The Lion King”) and Opetaia Foaʻi (founder and lead singer of the world music award-winning band Te Vaka).

Walt Disney Animation Studios’ 56th animated feature sails into U.S. theaters on Nov. 23, 2016.



  • DRESSED UP – Moana dons seven outfits in the movie, including the red tapa garment the character wears as a toddler when she first encounters the ocean character. 
    • Moana’s main look includes a tapa top and pandanus skirt with a shredded pandanus underskirt. Costume designer Neysa Bové created the outfit so it would be suitable for an adventurer. “The skirt has a slit in front to allow movement— whether she’s swimming, running or navigating her canoe,” says Bové.
    • One elaborate outfit worn during a dance sequence is visible for just six seconds.
    • Inspired by the Taualuga ceremonies of Samoa, Bové created a ceremonial garment for Moana that is covered in shells and pearls. Her Tuiga—or headdress—has shells from the ocean and red feathers to symbolize royalty.
    • All the characters in “Moana” wear outfits made only from materials that would have been available to them 2,000 years ago.
  • HAIRY SITUATION – Early designs of mighty demigod Maui lacked his signature do. He did, in fact, sport a tough-looking bald noggin. But Oceanic Story Trust consultants from Tahiti advised filmmakers that Maui, the subject of many and varied legends, was typically imagined with a full head of hair. So character designers went to work on creating the look and a team of technicians figured out how to realize it.
    • Technology had to be refined to allow for a wet look for Moana’s curly do, since she spends some time underwater. Artists invited volunteers with similar hairstyles to come into the studio and get dunked so they could perfect the look.
  • NOD TO PINOCCHIO – Maui’s tattoos features “Mini Maui”—a two-dimensional representation of Maui that serves as the demigod’s conscience, ensuring he does the right thing—even when he’d rather not. Mini Maui, which was animated using traditional hand-drawn techniques by Walt Disney Animation Studios’ accomplished animator Eric Goldberg and his team, was often compared to Jiminy Cricket, the official conscience of the title character in the 1940 feature film “Pinocchio.”
  • SO LOW – Tamatoa, the 50-foot-crab with trust issues, lives in an exotic bioluminescent world that’s almost as fancy as he is. Lalotai, the realm of monsters, is a place of fantasy located beneath the ocean’s floor. In fact, it was named in honor of its unusual location. Lalo means “below” and tai means “the sea” in Proto Polynesian.
  • 2 SPLISH SPLASH – The ocean is more than a setting in “Moana”—it’s a character. Tasked with creating a rig that would allow animators to pose the ocean and create performances that would showcase the emotion and spirit of the character, the rigging team built a rig with a curved wave-like shape that could be varied depending on the need of the story.
    • The rig allowed layout to pose the character and animation to create a performance.
    • The effects team added water effects—flowing water, splashes and drips—to enhance the look.
    • The creative process included an in-depth look at what was developed for Rapunzel’s hair in “Tangled.”
  • DUMB IDEA – In earlier versions of the film, Heihei used to be smart and sassy, but filmmakers felt that character was not unique. Several campaigned to remove the rooster from the film altogether, but a small group of story team members spent a couple days brainstorming ways to keep the character. Their solution? Lower his IQ. Their pitch earned so many laughs that Heihei was ultimately a keeper.
    • Filmmakers had to create a feather pipeline to deal with the feathers for not only Heihei, but for Maui hawk—the shape-shifted character Maui transforms into with the help of his magical fishhook. Feathers prove challenging in CG animation because of the need to rest on top of each other.



Moana easily has a spot in my top 5 favorite Disney movies of all time, I loved it that much! My dad was stationed in Hawaii when he was in the Navy and I grew up hearing about the beauty of the Polynesian culture. I’ve had the opportunity to visit the islands a couple times and there truly is something magical about Hawaii. To see the beauty and culture come alive on the big screen was amazing! 

I think many people can relate to Moana, who struggles with doing what is expected vs. taking a chance and following her heart. I know I certainly saw my 20-something self in Moana. I loved the relationship that Moana has with her grandmother, one of her greatest mentors. I treasure the time I spent with my grandmother as a child and feel like that time shaped me into who I am today. I loved the strong female characters in this movie!


Along with Moana’s coming of age story, the constant theme in the movie centered around integrity. This film can open up conversation about doing the right thing, even if it isn’t the easiest thing. I love a good moral to a story and had a great chat with my kindergartener about choosing goodness.

The number one question I always get asked after screening a film is: what age is a good age for this movie? Without giving away any spoilers, there is a death in the movie. With how it’s done, younger children may not even catch it. However, you may want to screen the movie first if a child has recently lost a loved one. Without giving away too much, there is a “bad guy” in the movie that some children might be frightened of. My very sensitive 6 year old did great with those minimal scenes and I have no qualms about taking my 3 year old to see the movie. My best advice is that if your child is highly sensitive or imaginative child, screen the movie first. You’ll want to see it again anyway! 


Something that ALL children will love is the silly rooster Heihei! I’m so glad that Disney kept him in the movie, he’s hilarious! Click HERE to download the Heihei and Pua coloring sheet!


Follow Moana on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Watch the trailer on You TubeWhat did you think of Moana? Leave a comment. 

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I'm Vanessa and it's my mission in life to spread my love of hot glue guns and glitter to others. I suffer from craft ADHD, regularly working on at least 10 projects at the same time and my craft room looks like a tornado hit it. My first craft book, Party in a Jar, was published in 2014. I look forward to crafting with you!

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