The only thing with more writers than Moana is pervy fanfiction for innocuous pop culture properties. The clown car thinktank that birthed one of the most spectacularly unoriginal scripts in recent memory had no less than eight credited writers. Four directors are listed, in defiance of logic and good planning. How this many sentient humans gathered together to produce a work that feels like the result of proverbial monkeys pounding on keyboards is far more mystifying than anything that happens on screen.
Moana is a magical MacGuffin movie. The daughter of a Pacific Island Chief, Moana (Auli’I Cravalho) longs to journey across the ocean; the ocean, in this case, is a semi-living creature that occasionally manifests phallic appendages, not unlike James Cameron’s The Abyss. Moana’s dad, Chief Tui (Temuera Morrison), doesn’t want her to leave the island, but her grandmother, Gramma Tala (Rachel House), convinces her that it’s the only way to save their home from declining resources.
Those resources are declining because a demigod, Maui (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson), stole a glowing rock (this would be Magic MacGuffin™). Moana must find Maui, retrieve his magic fishhook that lets him change shape and battle a blinged-out crab, Tamatoa (Jermaine Clement), and other obstacles in order to return Magic MacGuffin™ to where it belongs. Along the way, she presumably learns stuff about herself. Or her culture. Or life in general. Or something. Searching for a clear message in this lumpy, mushy narrative is as productive as Heihei (Alan Tudyk) the ignorant chicken trying to eat rocks.
Moana was scientifically designed to be of mass-appeal, which isn’t to say its quest for inoffensiveness has gone smoothly. The film has come under fire for its appropriation and depiction of Polynesian culture and people, most notably for a Halloween costume that seemed to encourage kids to try “brown face.” With buoyant, colorful visuals making everything feel exceedingly pleasant, only one sequence rises or sinks above others, that being the delightfully out-of-place song in praise of conspicuous consumption from Tamatoa.
If there is a major disappointment, it’s that the involvement of the brilliant Lin-Manuel Miranda doesn’t result in anything truly memorable. Sure, the songs he had a hand in are all sturdy and solid, but they seem to be setting up a major number that never comes. Parents may be thrilled that this holiday season will go by without a potent earworm like “Let It Go,” but us Lin-Maniacs were hoping for another blast of genius.
Nobody will hate Moana (save those who have legitimate cultural concerns against another Disney machine), but very few will truly love it and almost no one will walk out signing anything from it. The good news is, you will likely be able to convince the whole family to attend a screening over the holiday season, providing a few short hours without conflict or awkward conversation. Maybe one of the bajillion writers should have come up with that tagline. Moana: What else are you gonna do, talk to your relatives?
Grade = B-