Moana, to be released on Boxing Day, hits another strike in Disney's recent animated offerings. It was bound to succeed as the team behind it is responsible for both Zootopia (2016) and Frozen (2013), but will appeal to boys and girls alike, as well as parents and anyone who doesn't mind tapping their foot and having a laugh. While not as groundbreaking as other recent offerings, it certainly belongs in anyone's Disney Top 10 list.
The story follows Moana, daughter of the Chief of a small island in the Pacific. While her desire is to be on the ocean that surrounds her tiny world, she also recognises the responsibility given to her as the future chief. Her over-protective father, quietly supportive mother and kooky grandma each have a role in helping Moana discover who she needs to become.
But it is the delightfully nutty Grandma, and her memories of what life used to be like before the coconuts started dying and the fish were still plentiful, and the stories of demi-god Maui who stole the heart of Te Fiti, the Island goddess, that sends Moana on her big adventure across the reef to find Maui and replace the heart.
Apart from the new and dramatic scenery (not a snowflake in sight), the other refreshing feature is that Moana doesn't take itself too seriously. Of course there are moments when the characters must be challenged and confront their fears and all the other life lessons we come to expect from a Disney feature, but it doesn't preach, and more often than not, there's a joke in there: 'If you start singing,' says Maui to Moana. 'I'm going to throw up.'
But there is singing, and while there was no immediate successor to Elsa's 'Let It Go' there were at least three songs I found myself humming along to the first time I heard them, and my youngest girl often got out of her chair to dance along. The music is great, with a mix of the funny You're Welcome and the inspirational How Far I'll Go, and there is absolutely no reason to throw up.
Another break from Disney tradition is in the animal sidekick. While observant Maui points out to Moana 'if you wear a dress and have an animal sidekick – you're a princess', this is no standard Princess movie. Where other animal sidekicks talk or at least possess some sort of human intelligence, Moana's only companion on her long ocean voyage is a mangy chicken with eyesight problems and a perverse death wish. It is so stupid it's funny. Not Star Wars Jar Jar Binks so-stupid-I-want-to-poke-my-eyes-out, but a gentle reminder that even the most useless of earth's creatures has a place and a role.
There are also plenty of juvenile jokes that the kids will love, with talk about butt cheeks and peeing in the ocean, but it never stoops to immature, while adults will appreciate pop culture references and slightly older topics the kids might miss, as well as a very strange, David Bowie-like giant crab who likes shiny things (perhaps the weirdest and most jarring part of the movie).
Moana will open up a whole new world to children and adults alike, with locations and characters never seen before on the Disney screen (except perhaps, in a small way on Lilo and Stitch). There are no crowns or puffy dresses. There is not a single pair of shoes in the entire movie! Everyone will want to learn how to hula correctly.
As can be expected, there are some scary scenes that may frighten younger children. Both my six and four year olds uttered the words ''I'm scared' at least once during the movie, and it is true the demonic lava monster who looks like something out of The Lord of the Rings is frightening, but after the somewhat unexpected and happy ending (there has to be a happy ending) it might make children reassess, and watching it again (and again and again) will be easier.
As has become the new Disney tradition, there are no marriages to princes, no kissing and no weddings. Yes, the main character is a girl and she is full of all sorts of strength and power, but this is definitely not a movie just for girls. Any boy who refuses to watch Moana simply because it is about a girl will be missing out, and Dwayne Johnson (aka ex-wrestler The Rock) as demi-god Maui, steals every scene he is in.
This is definitely a movie for the whole family, but it also has layers and the more you think about, the more you will get out of it. I personally think Disney has another winner and my three girls each gave it five out of five stars.