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Moana, Disney’s new animated feature, is dangerously lovable. No critic wanting to keep his certificate of practice ought to enjoy a film so shouty, lollipop-coloured and ethno-historically dubious. All ancient Polynesians, according to the film’s lead writer-directors Ron Clements and John Musker (of Aladdin and The Little Mermaid), were jolly brown nutballs who wore tattoos and/or leaf skirts. They worshipped daft myths. And they sang — or do here — songs written by a Tony-winning New Yorker of Puerto Rican extraction, Lin-Manuel Miranda of Hamilton.
There could be umpteen charges of kitsch, political incorrectness and mongrelised cultural history. Yet this South Seas hurricane of a film blows us away, scattering our faculties and effects and substituting its own. Main effects: the rip-roaring virtuosities of digimation that harness oceans, skies and volcanoes to their metamorphic will. Main faculty: an ability to see comical and musical possibility where none existed before.
This includes a singing-and-dancing Polynesian god, Maui, voiced with verve by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, and a giant, gold-encrusted, shape-shifting crab who belts a sensational late show-stopper and then asks, in bashful aside, “Did you like the song?”
The god and crab are both shape-shifters. But who and what here aren’t? Even Moana (voice of Auli’i Cravalho), the tribal princess guiding Maui on a sea-crossing mission to fulfil a mythic quest, is regularly flung into ocean depths like fairground distorting mirrors. The duo’s volcanic-island destination contains an underworld as giddying and Dadaist-surreal as a sex shop — lurid, luminous, many-coloured treasures, some, like the singing crab, with a quirky and perilous novelty. Polynesia chances on the polymorphous perverse? Another reason for critics to think of their critical virtue before praising this film. But I’ll praise it anyway, and commend it as the certain Christmas movie treat of 2016.
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