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What You Need to Know Before Seeing: ‘Moana’ (Late Edition!)

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NOTE: Due to the film’s unusual release, this installment of WYSK is coming later than usual. Some estimates have been updated to reflect current figures. If you have seen the film, give your thoughts down below but PLEASE refrain from spoilers! 

‘What You Should Know’ is a Rotoscopers series that gives you a detailed and (somewhat) objective rundown of this year’s animated films, right before or on the day they hit theaters. That way, you (the undecided moviegoer) can make a decision about whether or not to see the movie based on the information provided. In this special edition of WYSK, I’ve invited Rachel Wagner to share her thoughts on the film. Scroll down to read!

MOVIE: Moana

DIRECTED BY: John Musker and Ron Clements

WRITTEN BY: Jared Bush (Story by Musker and Clements along with Chris Williams, Don Hall, and Pamela Ribon).

STARRING: Auli’i Cravalho (Moana), Dwayne Johnson (Maui), Rachel House (Gramma Tala), Temuera Morrison (Chief Tui Waialiki), Nicole Scherzinger (Sina Waialiki), Jemaine Clement (Tamatoa), and Alan Tudyk (Heihei).

MUSIC BY: Mark Mancina (soundtrack by Lin Manuel-Miranda and Opetaia Foa’i)

STUDIO: Walt Disney Pictures

PRODUCTION COMPANY: Walt Disney Animation Studios



Moana is the story of a young woman – the daughter of a chieftain of a Polynesian tribe – who is chosen by the ocean to reunite a mystical relic with a goddess, with assistance from a demigod played by The Rock.


The project originated as a back-up idea by Musker and Clements, one of three original concepts they developed in case their planned adaptation of Terry Prattchett’s Discworld novel Mort fell through (it did). It began development in 2011, with the title name Moana virtually unchanged since conception.


In 2012, Musker and Clements went on research trips (typical for certain animated features) to Fiji, Samoa, and Tahiti to study and learn about the people and culture of the South Pacific. In the five years it took to produce the film, Musker and Clements formed an ‘Oceanic Story Trust,’ consisting of experts recruited from across the South Pacific who consulted on story accuracy and authenticity.

Moana reportedly went through nine different versions of its story, with one version originally focusing on the titular character rescuing her father, who was lost at sea. This idea survives in the final version as a subtle element of the father’s backstory.

Moana is Musker and Clements’ first CG animated feature. One reason for their jump to CG was the ocean and environment, both elements that benefit from the format. The film was planned as a hand-drawn feature, but only a few animation tests exist of this planned version. This element also survived in the form of Maui’s moving tattoos.

Taika Waititi (director of Thor: Ragnarok) wrote the initial screenplay. While multiple writers have since contributed versions of the story (see ‘Written By’ section), Jared Bush received credit for the final screenplay.

Auli’i Cravalho was a high school freshman when she was cast as the main character (out of hundreds of candidates from across the South Pacific). Some of her mannerisms were incorporated into the character (who was already completely designed at the time).


Again, too many to name so I’ll keep it short.

Other than continuing WDAS’ winning streak of films, Moana is representative of what might the first glimpse of the company’s future as a ‘Big 3’ studio capable of telling diverse stories (literally and thematically) and evolving its cinematic footprint in an increasingly crowded field.

Oh yeah, and Hamilton fans are sure to get a kick out of the soundtrack for the film.


Nothing serious to speak of, other than a crowded box-office (see below).


Moana is an unusual case, in that it was given a mid-week Thanksgiving release. This allowed the movie to rake in a pretty serious pre-Thanksgiving weekend intake of near $80 Million, cementing Moana as Disney’s second-best opener (behind Frozen) and outperforming Pixar’s record-setting Toy Story 2.

The only stumbling block is that Moana is wandering into a more crowded than usual holiday box office, with Fantastic Beats, Doctor Strange, and Trolls continuing to be strong performers and all competing for overlapping audiences. Estimates from this weekend will tell if Moana had enough B.O. power to rise above the rest (I think it might).


Speaking of a winning streak…

Moana has a 98% ‘Certified Fresh’ rating on Rotten Tomatoes. The critical consensus reads: “With a title character as three-dimensional as its lush animation and a story that adds fresh depth to Disney’s time-tested formula, Moana is truly a family-friendly adventure for the ages.”


If you put all the things I liked in a pot to try and brew the perfect movie for Rachel, Moana would be the end result. I love Lin Manuel Miranda and have been a big fan of his since In the Heights, not just Hamilton, so I knew the music was going to be a big hit for me. I love Ron Clements and John Musker with The Little Mermaid being my favorite movie as a child. I love the ocean and yearn for it when I am far from it. I love Disney and Disney princess movies. Moana has all of these aspects and does them all proud.

I’ll spare you the hyperbole, but suffice it to say I loved Moana. It made me so happy on pretty much every level. It was funny, sweet, endearing, and extremely clever. I loved Moana as a character and how bold yet kind she was. Auli’i Cravalho did an incredible job both in singing and vocal work. I loved Maui and thought The Rock did an amazing job, even if his singing left a little bit to be desired. I know he has Polynesian ancestry and you could tell – the performance had that kind of personal, joyful connection to it. .The whole movie felt joyful. I loved Gramma Tala, Heihei the chicken, and Tamatoa the evil crab. It all worked for me and I am so happy I will soon have it as part of my Disney library. I hope you all get to see it and have as positive an experience as I did.


Were you looking to WDAS to tell more diverse stories with diverse characters? Then Moana is for you. Are you simply just looking to see a great animated film? Moana is for you. No matter what you’re into, Moana has a little something for everyone.

If this article has you interested in seeing Moana, buy your tickets here on Fandango.

Thank you for reading this installment of What You Should Know!

What do you think? Is Moana worth seeing in theaters?

Edited by: Hannah Wilkes

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About Brandon Smith

Brandon is your average nerd with a love for nerdy things (games, comics, anime/manga, etc.). He also loves reading and writing and plans to be an author someday. For now, he writes with passion and curiosity about the world of animation. He lives with his family in North Carolina and is currently attending college.
  • I literally just saw Moana, it was SOOOOO GOOD!!! The animation, songs, characters were just so fantastic and so worth it! The only problem was the lack of Pua and unrelated problem was the theatre I was in was super disruptive and I missed a kinda a lot of the opening short and a big story detail which sucked but hopefully when I see it again (which for sure I am getting the movie on blu ray and its CD in deluxe form) I think I’ll enjoy it way more than in the theatre ^.^

    • I’m not the only one who missed Pua! The rooster was funny sometimes, but I wanted Pua!

      • You’re right. Pua was barely in it. I wonder why?

        • They marketed her a ton, but she was in the movie for like 5 seconds

        • Phoenix Wright

          I read that Pua was originally supposed to go on the adventure in earlier versions of the movie, but in the end they decided that it would be better if he just stayed on the island. I’m kind of disappointed, but I did think that Hei Hei was funny enough

          • True. Thanks for clearing that up for me.

    • Rachel Wagner

      Yay Haley! I was beginning to think I was only rotoscoper that loved it. Such a bummer your theater was so rude. I hope you get to see it again in a better theater

      • Really?? I thought the execution was just amazing! I say if the atmosphere and other elements are just so strong and makes you get emotional (three times during song numbers no joke!) then it’s awesome in my book :))))
        It’s ok that just makes it worth more to get it on BluRay and watch it from the comforts and less annoying atompshere of home ^.^

        • Rachel Wagner

          I agree!

        • Rachel Wagner

          Just seemed like the commenters on this post were surprisingly negative. I loved this movie so much

          • I didn’t know they were so negative, but yeah I really enjoyed this one

          • Rachel Wagner

            I guess just was my impression. Glad to hear it

      • Manuel Orozco

        I just watched Moana this afternoon I loved it too

    • I saw Moana at around 9pm, in order to avoid seeing it with the little kids.

    • Jeremiah

      Good to hear Haley, can’t wait to see it.

    • Manuel Orozco

      Just finished Moana over an hour ago and I loved it. Sorry about the disrupt in your theatre.

      • It’s ok, can’t wait to actually re watch it in the comforts in home when I can 🙂
        Happy you enjoyed it too

        • Manuel Orozco

          Luckily I didn’t find the commitment to seeing it in theatres. Moana concludes my trip through most of the Best of feature western animation from this past year. It’s my favorite animated film from this past year tied with KFP 3, Kubo and the Two Strings and Sing. Moana is vibrantly animated, heartwarming, musically spectacular, action packed and occasionally funny.

          • Great and awesome!

          • Manuel Orozco

            Some I didn’t bother seeing but I have to say 2016 has been a mostly sensational year for animated features.

          • Yeah

          • Manuel Orozco

            In fact Moana has now joined Snow White and Cinderella as my favorite Disney princesses. By the way, this year in spite I am refusing to watch Boss Baby is not off to a bad start itself with Lego Batman and Smurfs.

          • Cool

          • Manuel Orozco

            Thanks and you have seen Smurfs Lost Village have you not?

          • No, it looks like a rental to me. Didn’t really grow up with them but it does look like a fun rental from what I see

          • Manuel Orozco

            That’s okay if you wait. I was just wondering It doesn’t have the nostalgia value the Peanuts Movie offered as an animated reboot. However, I would recommend if you like madcap hilarity, vibrant animation, heart and lovable characters. Pamela Ribn who was one of the story writers for Moana co-wrote Lost Village’s screenplay.

          • Cool

          • Manuel Orozco

            I don’t know how long this year can keep this up with Cars 3 and Coco coming up from Pixar. As well as Fernidand from Blue Sly Lego Ninjango and the other Sony releases. I’m not seeing Nut Job 2, My Little Pony, Emoji Movie or Captain Underpants for sure.

  • Manuel Orozco

    I’m going to wait until DVD/Netflix to see Moana. It does look astonishingly beautiful and I would see almost amything that is with music by Lin Manual Miranda!

  • Phin68

    “Moana is Musker and Clements’ first CG animated feature. One reason for their jump to CG was the ocean and environment, both elements that benefit well in that format.”

    I think we all know what the “other reasons” were. Can’t have hand drawn features nowadays, Disney! 😉

    Anyways, I’m definitely looking to check this movie out soon. All the great word-of-mouth has been pushing me towards that. Hope its story surpasses Frozen’s!

    • brandon

      It’s been three years since Disney had a dedicated hand-drawn department and five years since they had a hand-drawn film in theaters (Winnie the Pooh).

      But it’s not just Disney. There would need to be a hand-drawn animated feature or succession of features, all grossing Frozen-numbers or higher at the BO, in order to inspire an industry-wide resurrection of the medium. Until then…

      • I agree. It’s not going to happen anytime soon.

      • Phin68

        Sad but true.

    • Manuel Orozco

      I do prefer CGI over handdrawn but I agree it’s sad hand drawn won’t come back. The only hope left is for Don Bluth to greenlight his Dragon’s Lair movie.

  • Watched this one early in the morning on the release day (the theatre was surprisingly empty, though I suppose not to many people were free at 11:30 AM on Wed). I liked it quite a lot, the music, the animation, the characters, all relatively well done. (And now the songs are all stuck in my head).

  • Fadi Antwan

    Okay Moana is not a perfect film. It doesn’t live up to its potential in the first two thirds in my opinion by not doing anything remarkable. But the last third wraps up things really beautifully and makes you reflect very positively on the entire film. Now the more I think about it, the more I appreciate its simplicity and charm. (potential spoiler) The scene at the end with Te Ka is one of the most beautiful and intense in Disney or even animation history. I got goosebumps and teared up the entire time. The songs are quite nice and catchy, and they keep growing on me especially “Where You Are” and “You’re Welcome.” To my surprise, everyone sings excellently in Moana, even the Rock and especially Auli’i Cravalho (really incredible voice).

    Overall, I’d give Moana 4/5 stars but I have a feeling I might bump it up to 4.5 after a second watch.

    • Agree. The story is a bit of a letdown, but otherwise very good. I loved the songs.

    • Marielle

      I felt the other way around. I thought the first third of the movie was incredible. The island life, the legacy of navigators, the grandma, Moana’s conflict, her departure and her meeting Maui, it was all perfect! The rest was just too straightforward: obstacle 1, obstacle 2, big boss, the end. The last third could have been more elaborated. They should have explained better why Moana is the chosen one, what is her relationship with Te Fiti, why Maui was saved by the Gods, and what kind of leader Moana will be now.

      I still love it because the beginning was beautiful and the songs so emotional!

      • brandon

        Ok, we’re leaning a little too much into spoiler territory. Let’s ease off for the sake of those who haven’t seen it, shall we?

      • Manuel Orozco

        Just saw it yesterday and I totally agree. However, the movie overall was still great. Maybe in the future, a little more will be developed.

  • Long story short, Moana was nowhere near as good as Zootopia was, but still nice. The songs were great, the animation was some of the finest computer animation that I had ever seen, and the characters were enjoyable. However, what held it back was the story. The story was very predictable, simplistic, and the side characters weren’t interesting.

    • Manuel Orozco

      I thought Moana was better than Zootopia but to each their own

  • I thought it was very good & beautiful! My favorite bits were the mystical nature moments with the untranslated Polynesian music & bio-luminescence. Baby Moana on the beach & grandma were my favorite characters. Loved the visuals at the end, definitely one to see on the big screen!

    I did have a few minor criticisms, probably because I had built up so many high expectations for it over the years. I think they need to get a different person to write the dialogue, the tone of the chit chat is just sounding too similar across the recent films. The self referential jabs at Disney tropes are just taking me out of the story now. I also thought the obstacles felt too quickly/easily rushed through, the journey felt short. Maui could’ve had a stronger conclusion related to his backstory, somehow bring that back to the people. Sometimes CG films get a little too focused on pretty visuals & lose potential on the writing.

    Still I really enjoyed the experience of watching it, I hope to see it again! I hope Disney does more films like it, there are so many stories from cultures around the world. I keep changing my mind on a score, but I’ll say 8/10. Liked it much more than Frozen so I’m happy with it 😛

    • Neni Viani

      New Movie 2016-2017

      Moana Online HD Link : OW.LY/5MkO306RXBg

      HD quality…

  • I saw it on my birthday yesterday and had a lot of fun watching it with my friend. By far my favorite character in the film aside from Moana and Maoi is Grandma. She’s just amazing in every scene she’s in and Disney is great at making fun old people characters. She’s now up there with the greats, Grandmother Willow, Mama Odie (another film the directors did), and Sugar Mama. 😀

    • I agree. I found her to be the only interesting side character. BTW, happy B-day!

  • makine

    Sit through the credits.

    • Yes, I agree. There is a very cool after-credits scene.

    • Manuel Orozco

      I thought the after credit scene was all right

  • So, after a few days of Thanksgiving craziness, I finally got to check out Moana. I went to catch a showing on Saturday afternoon only to find that it was sold out. Yikes! No
    biggee, I just went ahead and purchased a ticket for the next showing. I had an extra hour to anticipate what I was going to see up on that screen. Even though we had another Disney animated feature earlier this year, it had been a whole 3 years since we’ve had and epic “princess” musical. These are always my favorite, and so the anticipation had been slowly building in recent months.

    Over the past few weeks or so, I’ve also heard some great reviews on, not only the movie itself, but also the soundtrack. See, I’m also a music fanatic and I love music of all styles ESPECIALLY Disney music. On my CD rack (yes I still have CDs) I have an
    entire row of soundtracks, mostly Disney ones. I absolutely love them. I can put on a soundtrack and instantly my mind is drawn in and I’m transported someplace else. Music, for me, truly is an emotional experience. I was excited to hear that the new song “How Far I’ll Go” was being called the next “Let It Go.” I couldn’t wait to hear, what I thought, was going to be a huge, emotional showstopper. After pondering on these things for the extra hour I had, my show time was finally here, and I was going to witness Disney’s 56th animated classic! Here are my thoughts:

    I can say that Moana is definitely a strong film. There were likable characters, amazing animation, inspiring music, and an authentic score. However, as much as I wanted it to be, Moana is not a perfect film. As with most films there were good things
    and bad things. I want to take a minute and just touch on a couple of those things. Let’s start with the good things:

    There was definitely lots to love about Moana, so let’s start with Moana herself. I love this character. I think Disney has delivered an excellent role model for kids of all ages. Even though she was young and was faced with an impossible situation, she didn’t cower in fear and runaway, she faced it head on, even though others were telling her it wasn’t a great idea. Even though she was afraid, she didn’t let that fear stop her. Her willingness to help her people and the weight of that responsibility was the driving force behind her mission. It was inspiring to watch her on her journey. She was such as strong character that, after the movie, I told my wife that if Moana was Elsa, she would’ve runaway and hid herself in the cavern with the boats and become a hermit. Unlike Elsa, Moana didn’t run from her fears or her responsibilities. She jumped on a boat and head out to sea, and was determined not to come back until the problem had been resolved. I really hope young girls will look to Moana for inspiration.

    There were other things to love about this movie as well. I loved Moana’s design. Thank you Disney for not giving her the typical “Princess Figure” complete with 10-inch waste and flowing dress. I loved that Moana was depicted as strong and athletic. Her shape was authentic and it was refreshing to see that. I also loved that Disney didn’t “white-wash” the voice cast and all the actors are authentic to the culture this is set in. It really helped to bring you into this world. I was a big fan of moments in the film that focused more on the Polynesian culture as well as the untranslated chanting and the elements that focused on nature. These were the moments in the movie that really shined. These were the moments that got me excited and pulled me into the film. And of course, the animation was fantastic. I don’t think we could’ve asked for more from the animation department. The lighting, shading, rendering…everything was perfect. It was definitely a feast for the eyes. I’d say Disney
    nailed the look.

    Now unfortunately, we have to talk about the bad. Let me start with the music. Now before you jump all over me, let me start by saying that the music wasn’t ALL bad. I quite enjoyed some of the musical numbers. However, as I mentioned before, I had heard comments that “How Far I’ll Go” was the next “Let It Go.” My thoughts on this? Nope, sorry. Even though it was a delightful song with a catchy melody, there was just no emotional oomph behind it. It started, plateaued, then ended. It had so much potential, but lost its steam before it ever got started. It really needed a bridge in order to build the song up to the next level, then add in a key change on the final chorus along with more layers of instruments, building the song to a climax. Imagine if “Let it Go” would’ve ended before the bridge, before we got to the part where Elsa sings, “My power flurries through the air into the ground…” and we never got to hear the, what I call, finale of the song. It would be kind of a letdown, right? This is what I felt happened with “How Far I’ll Go.” However, let me state that I thought the reprises to this song were much, MUCH better. They had the layers I was talking about and the music drove the song into a higher level. By far the best song in the movie was “I Am
    Moana” which is, what I consider, the final reprise to the theme song. This has all the elements I was talking about. The song starts off soft, and then slowly builds adding more layers of instruments, and even the chanting of the ancestors. The song culminates in a big emotional number with Moana belting out who she is, “I Am
    Moana!” Wow! This is was we needed a half hour earlier. It was disappointing that the final reprise and not the main song was the best in the movie.

    As long as we’re on music, let me just say that “Shiny” was the worst song ever written for a Disney movie. This song felt so out of place that it was completely jarring. It literally jolted me out of the movie. The entire sequence I was sitting there thinking that this song did not belong in this movie. It felt like it was written for another movie altogether. Watching it, I felt embarrassed and awkward. It blows my mind that Disney
    actually considered cutting “Part of Your World” from The Little Mermaid, but felt it was a good idea to leave this mess in Moana. What in the world? This whole sequence could’ve been cut from the movie and you wouldn’t even miss it. What was the purpose of a flamboyant crab singing about all the “bling” he has? How did that further the plot? How did that fit into a movie that, up to that point, was playing heavily into authentic Polynesian culture? That’s just it, it didn’t fit. It was weird. I know what scene I’ll be skipping when I get the Blu-ray and Disney should’ve known better and left that sorry excuse for a song on the cutting-room floor!

    Just a few other criticisms I have: Some of the middle was pretty slow. There was a lot scenes where it was just unnecessary banter between Moana and Maui. The movie started strong and ended strong, but some of that middle part drug along a little. I’m sorry to say that I dozed off a little during those parts. I wish the would’ve cut some of that down or added another, more needed scene in there somewhere. Another thing, unfortunately I didn’t quite connect with Maui for most of the film. He was ok, he said some funny things, but I didn’t really care about him the way I thought I should have. I liked how they tried to give him some more emotional moments with his backstory, and I liked how they brought him back near the end to help Moana, but other than that, he was just a standard character to me, nothing special.

    Ok, that about sums it up for me. Animation was fantastic, story was pretty good, but really shined in the beginning and also that amazing scene near the end with Moana and Te Fiti, especially with that song “Know Who You Are.” If the movie could’ve had more of those moments, this would’ve been “blow you away” amazing. The music was ok, I think it could’ve been better, but the soundtrack did have its moments with “I Am Moana” and I’m thankful for those moments.

    All in all Disney delivered another solid animated film to add to its library. Will we see a bunch of little girls dressing like Moana next Halloween or singing “How Far I’ll Go” over and over until their parents have a meltdown? I’m not sure. Only time will tell. I can say that, the more I look back and reflect on the movie, the more I like it. I have plans to go see it again soon. Now, knowing what I know, it will be interesting to sit back and watch the film with no expectations. I’ll be interested to see if my opinions change at all.

    If you haven’t seen it yet, go see it. I give it a solid 7/10.

    • Marielle

      I loved the character of Moana too, especially her athleticism. The only thing I didn’t like is that she’s not very relatable with her being the daughter of the chief AND the one chosen by the ocean. She could have been a normal teen determined to save her people. But it was great to see her leadership.

      The last few notes of “I Am Moana” make me cringe so bad. I love the rest of the song. When she talks about her ancestors and her calling for the sea, it’s great, but when she screams “I am Moana”, it’s very modern-day individualism. It should have ended with “I know the way”, not the cliché “I am Moana”.

    • Rachel Wagner

      Thanks for leaving your review!