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How Great is Disney's 'Moana'? The First Wave of Buzz Is Here

Disney is already killing it in 2016, dominating much of the year’s box office chart thanks to Finding DoryZootopiaThe Jungle Book and its Marvel movies, including Captain America: Civil War and Doctor Strange, which just opened at number one. And the studio still has some of the most anticipated releases of the next two months. One of those is another animated feature, Moana

We still have a couple weeks until Moana hits theaters, but reviews of the movie, which stars the voices of Dwayne Johnson and Auli’i Cravalho and includes songs co-written by Hamilton‘s Lin-Manuel Miranda, are already coming through, and they are mostly positive. Here’s all the questions you may have with answers provided by the critics: 

How is the story?

“It’s a Disney musical, so you can pretty much guess all the beats … But if we’re looking at the journey and not the destination, Moana is thoroughly entertaining if never completely groundbreaking.” – The Wrap

“The story takes some agreeably bizarre turns … It’s best not to give too much away – but the fact that there’s little else to give away is where Moana falls down.” – The Guardian

“As streamlined a Disney Animation narrative as we’ve seen in quite some time. But the comparatively simple storytelling leaves ample room for plenty of unbelievable sights and indescribable feelings. Oh, and richly developed lead characters to boot.” – Forbes

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Is there any romance?

“Thankfully, Moana doesn’t have a love interest.” – Entertainment Weekly

“It’s nonetheless refreshing to see a main character who isn’t just resourceful but also more concerned with saving the day than falling in love.” – Screen International

“Much to its credit, the screenplay makes Moana an interesting, self-actualized character. She’s not waiting around for a prince.” – The Wrap

“One of Disney’s most remarkable heroines yet: Rather than waiting for her prince (or whomever) to come, Moana takes control of her own destiny.” – Variety

How is the humor?

“The quartet of directors manage to work in plenty of offbeat humor at every inventive turn. At one point, Maui insists the chief’s daughter must be a princess because all princesses wear a dress and are accompanied by an animal sidekick.” – The Hollywood Reporter

“The main source of comic relief, [Maui’s] arrival signals an abrupt shift in tone from the vibrant storybook qualities of the first act to a cheekier, winking self-awareness. (When Maui first spots Moana, he uses a bird’s beak to a sign a rock with his name and asserts, ‘They call it tweeting.’)” – Indiewire

“There’s comic relief in the form of Heihei, a real dodo of a rooster, who’s there to supply laughs and sell toys, but otherwise has no business having left the island.” – Variety

“None of this is to imply that John Musker and Ron Clements’s adventure is an Emperor’s New Groove-ish farce, far from it. But there are knowing winks offered with the understanding that this is somewhat familiar territory in service of a familiar journey.” – Forbes

How is the animation?

“The film is a kaleidoscope of glorious visuals and crowd-pleasing bits-and-pieces.” – Forbes

“The breathtakingly beautiful animation break[s] fresh visual ground. Letting the natural light of the sun and the moon inform virtually every textured frame, the film boasts backgrounds that are awash in phosphorescent greenery and shimmering blue waters.” – The Hollywood Reporter

“The animation is stunning, whether it’s showcasing lush landscapes or a madcap coconut pirate action sequence that feels like Mad Max: Fury Road on the high seas.” – Entertainment Weekly

How is the music? 

“The film sports emotional, rhythmically propulsive tunes … Moana’s songs have a sonic richness and lump-in-the-throat grandeur that make them one of the film’s consistent highlights.” – Screen International

“The only song that pops on a first listen is ‘You’re Welcome,’ Maui’s smug self-congratulation anthem.” – The Wrap

“Serviceable and toe-tapping. ‘You’re Welcome’ is jazzy enough, and there is a second-act number that is a surprise gem … The songs are less about spawning catchy singles and more about establishing setting and character.” – Forbes

“‘You’re Welcome’ and ‘How Far I’ll Go,’ which, if not quite as catchy as [Frozen‘s] ‘Do You Want to Build a Snowman’ and ‘Let It Go,’ come pretty darned close.”  – The Hollywood Reporter

There isn’t necessarily an instant, ‘Let It Go’-style earworm … Cravalho shows off her pipes with ‘How Far I’ll Go,’ delivering the kind of classic Disney ‘I Want’ song that brings to mind The Little Mermaid’s ‘Part of Your World’ and Hercules’ ‘Go The Distance.’ – Entertainment Weekly

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How else does Moana compare to other Disney Animated Features? 

“If Frozen was the Mouse House finally and triumphantly embracing its destiny in a ‘Simba climbs to the top of Pride Rock and the rain washes away the past’ fashion. Moana feels like a victory lap.” – Forbes

“Disney has set a high standard lately. Frozen defied its fairytale template by swerving into matters of sisterhood, Big Hero 6 pulled off a clever trans-Pacific cultural fusion, and this year’s excellent Zootopia was both a snappy, original comedy and a valuable primer in identity politics. Moana never quite reaches these heights.” – The Guardian

“Considering [Moana and Zootopia] side-by-side, one can see how far the toon studio has come in recent years, and rather than judging them against one another, there’s something to be celebrated in the way Zootopia advances the storytelling possibilities of animation, while Moana demonstrates how Disney has gotten its mojo back.” – Variety

Are there any big negative criticisms with the movie?

Moana does what it does so well that you wish its makers had imbued it with some X factor that separates the classics from the merely beloved.” – The Wrap

Moana stumbles on half-formed ideas, perhaps reflecting the volume of people involved in its direction.” – Indiewire

When can we see it for ourselves?

Moana opens in theaters everywhere on November 23.  


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