READER BEWARE - CONTAINS MILD SPOILERS IF YOU HAVE NOT YET SEEN THIS FILM.
The title is a bold statement given that it is only February and we are just around the corner from the release of the hotly awaited Beauty and the Beast remake. As much as I am excited by Emma Watson's Belle, I have already fallen in love this year with a feisty Polynesian teenager, and I don't think even the brains and bravery of Hermoine are going to impress me more.
So what is to love? This film has so much delight and exceeded expectations in it, I am not sure where to start. But I'll try. Here's my top 12 things to celebrate about Moana.
1). Girls Rule. There is no fuss made that Moana is the daughter of the tribe's chief and that she will lead her people one day. No exclamations over her being a girl, hasn't she done well given her gender, poor him for lacking a son etc etc., - it is just a simple truth. Moana will lead when it is her time. This is refreshingly understated and makes a stronger point for the delicate touch.
2). No love lost for this independent woman. There is no love interest for Moana. Not even a hint or suggestion of one. This is extraordinary in this kind of film. Frozen was fabulous for promoting sister love, but still made much a do about suitors and love affairs with regards to Anna. Moana is a young girl, but she stands alone. She doesn't need to marry to inherit her power. It is already there, waiting for her to realise it. There is a lot of love in this film. But it is wonderfully appropriate for the age and experience of the lead character.
3). A wonderfully human heroine. Moana is vulnerable but still incredibly strong. She has her moments of self doubt. Despite her positive nature and courage she reaches a low ebb and we fear she may turn away from the great challenge before her. But she digs deep. She draws on the wisdom and teachings of the wise woman who counselled and loved her ever since she was a small child. She is guided and influenced by Gramma Tala even when she is no longer there. Hurray for the grey. There are too many black and white Disney characters out there.
4). The strongest, wisest character is an old woman at the end of her life. Moana's relationship with her grandmother was beautifully portrayed. It is rare for older characters to get respect and recognition in animation, let alone much screen time. Grama Tala was a great retaliation. Her character is vital, eccentric and powerful. This film pressed all my Grandma buttons! I was a happy blubbering mess by the end. If you are similarly affected, don't forget your tissues, because you are probably going to need them.
5. An inspirational tale that didn't lose its sense of humour. Who knew that the sea could be so funny? Or have such great timing? I have never heard my daughter laugh so much during a film, she even slapped her thigh at one particularly amusing part. My 7 year old was on the edge of her seat throughout. She punched the air at the end to illustrate how much she enjoyed it and she had tears in her eyes (me too). A real rollercoaster of emotion. What more can you ask for the price of your ticket?
6. Respectfully, realistically portrayed middle aged and older women. Moana's mother has laughter lines around her eyes in some scenes. This is such a simple thing but seemed so incredible to me. It is rare to see characters in the middle age register in a Disney flick. Females are usually young and perfect or old and decrepit. Sina does not have a big role in terms of screen time but she is crucial to her daughter finding the strength to leave her island home and accept the quest. It is lovely to see a female character of a certain age being portrayed in this way. Gramma Tala had freckles and age spots on her hands, again kindly portrayed. Big thumbs up.
7. I love Love LOVE the body shapes. Stocky, strong, broad. At one stage Moana has to escape from a tight spot, unaided. She is athletic and agile. Her body representation makes this totally believable. Moana has fantastic calves. Legs to stand steady on. Her frame is sturdy. She can climb a coconut tree and steer a boat in rocky waters. I love her physical confidence as she bounds around. She is a strong limbed girl, bursting with vitality. Bravo!
8. Sidekick surprise. The cutesy piglet Pua didn't make the voyage, but the totally daft chicken did. This was much to the hilarity of my daughters - funny always beats cute in our house. Plus the Princess + sidekick joke from Maui was very funny.
9. Friendship is earned and does not come easy. And I totally believed in it as a result.
10. The characters learn something on the way. This is a life changing journey for several of the cast - Moana's father, Moana, Maui, the Lava Monster. I asked my 7 year old who learns the most in the film. She thought the demi-god. He had to learn that outside things don't change who you are as a person inside. That you are master of your fate. Amusingly she used an analogy of me having my eyebrows threaded by a brutally efficient Asian lady in the shopping mall where the cinema was. 'You are still the same mum inside, just a bit less hairy' . . . er yes, thank you darling, that is . . . reassuring . . . if not particularly relevant . . .
Who learnt the most? Well Moana's Dad learnt a whole lot. But we don't get to really witness that journey.
11. The songs. The Bowiesque 'Shiny' is just marvellous and had me on the edge of my seat, tapping my toes. Fans of Flight of the Conchords are in for a particular treat. 'You're Welcome' is just great, so much story conveyed, so well. Worryingly my daughter is now talking about how much she likes tattoos (yeah, thanks for that one Disney). And the heart soaring song about the horizon and finding the ocean, is just fab.
12. Where is the merchandise? Where is the hype? As a film, it beats Frozen. Well for me, anyway. And I applauded the progress made in Frozen almost as much as I detested the unstoppable snow plough of merchandise that swept our nation following its success that has only recently thawed. I enjoyed the refreshing sisterly love focus, but for me it still cannot top Moana as my favourite - this heroine is just sublime. She is fearless and afraid. Bold and cautious. Wise and naive. As I mentioned previously , there is a wonderful grey about her, which makes her so human.
Elsa trumps her on the dress though. Which is still a good thing in my book. Less tat to buy off the shelves.
So to conclude. Bravo Disney. My daughter has already been bought the soundtrack for her birthday and we shriek it out far too loud in the car as we drive to school. And as soon as I can get away with, I am watching the film again (not too soon or my husband will think I am bonkers) and I have a feeling my daughter will be right beside me, gripping my hand with the thrilling nature of it all.
Our Moana toys can be viewed here.