Is this the best year in Walt Disney Pictures’ 80-year history? It’s definitely up there. With the release of films like Zootopia, The Jungle Book, Finding Dory, The BFG, and Queen of Katwe, in addition to their subsidiaries’ films like Captain America: Civil War, Doctor Strange, and Southside With You, it seems like the House of Mouse just can’t stop winning this year. It’s a film that directors Ron Clements and John Musker have been working on since the release of their last movie, (the also incredible) Princess and the Frog. It features some of the most buzzworthy people alive today: recently-crowned “Sexiest Man Alive” Dwayne Johnson and Hamilton megastar Lin-Manuel Miranda.
And holy shit, does it deliver. I don’t want to spoil my fast-approaching year-end list, but I’m tempted to say it’s the best animated movie of 2016. Yes, better than Sausage Party, better than Finding Dory, better than Zootopia, better than goddamn Kubo. Although I will say that it shares some conceptual similarities with Kubo, in terms of both of them involving magical island children and intense scenes out on the ocean and parental figures dying suddenly only to come back later in the form of a mystical entity that’s been guiding our hero all along.
But that’s neither here nor there. Let’s talk about all the things that kick ass in this movie. First of all, the aforementioned John D. Rockthewayneson is amazing as always. He plays a demigod named Maui who falls victim to his own vanity, even though he may be worthy of the glory he grants himself. He has magical sentient tattoos that are also hella rad, and he’s also a goddamn demigod, I mean, come on.
This isn’t to detract from the star of the show, Moana, who kicks all sorts of ass. She rehabilitates a lava monster and she’s friends with water. She’s the chief of her tribe, and apparently the first female one, and she finishes the film by placing a shell on a pile of stones that every chief adds one to. Don’t ask me how the next chief is gonna stack a stone on top of a seashell. It’s sort of rude on her part, really.
And the soundtrack by LMM in also spectacular. I could see him becoming the Alan Menken of this era of Disney, providing soundtracks whenever they need it, bringing us a step closer to the first hip-hop Disney movie.
The visuals are also amazing. There’s a part where they go into a place called the “Realm of Monsters” and it’s nothing like you’d think but still incredible. There’s a few unnecessary animal sidekicks (a pig that only appears in about three scenes), but a lot of the bit characters are great.
Overall, I give Moana an A. It really feels like a movie we’ll still be talking about in 30 years, which is something I’m always looking for. I don’t think I’ve felt so strongly about an animated movie since I came out of The Lego Movie in 2014. I highly recommend you see it, and whatever else Disney has on the way, because they’re on a serious roll.