Walt Disney Studio Pictures             103 minutes           PG

Is Moana the new Disney Princess? She actually is more than that. She’s a spunky daughter of the Chief of the Polynesian people of Te Fiti who bucks her father’s orders by sailing on a wild adventure to save her people. you see, she comes from a long line of navigators and is dying to get out to see.  

Disney computer animators knew they couldn’t show the beauty of Hawaii without making it colorful and they do. And the animation of the shimmering aqua water, which is a character unto itself, is extraordinary.

That said, the outcome of the story is pretty predictable. But the stories about Polynesian shapeshifting, demigod Maui (voiced by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson who is half Samoan) make it more interesting. The tales of this bigger than life character have been handed down forever says Auli’i Cravalho, the voice of Moana. This is her first major role and she was plucked out of a casting call. Auli’i actually grew up on the big island of Hawaii, so it’s a good fit.

When the heart of Tefiti is stolen by the mischievous Maui, Moana takes it upon herself to sail beyond the reef where her father told her never to go. Maui becomes her unlikely guide using the stars to find her way. They battle monsters and the sea. There’s always a sidekick to provide comic relief and this time it’s Moana’s pet rooster that draws laughs trying to stay upright and on the boat.  

Auli’i sings songs written by mega musical star Lin-Manuel Miranda, Mark Mancina and Opetaia Foa’i. To get their inspiration, they attended a Polynesian music festival in New Zealand in 2014. Mancina says Miranda really got into it, so much so that he entered a dance contest shimmying like the locals and won! The songs are pretty and reminded us a little of the soaring songs in The Little Mermaid. However, the melodies are less memorable. Yes, there is some Lin-Manuel Hip Hop. And hearing “The Rock” sing is a hoot.

Johnson says he was glad to be in a film about his own heritage and really related to the character of Maui who has a big personality, charm and is incredibly good looking….like him…and laughs. Seriously, he says the film gives a better appreciation of our culture the importance of family and never to forget where you came from and give back any way you can.

Temeura Morrison plays Chief Tu Waialiki, Moana’s protective father. Jemaine Clement is Tamatoa, a huge coconut crab from Lalotai, where the monsters come from. Tamatoa gets to fight Maui and Clement quips he’s always wanted to fight “The Rock” and that being an animated character is the only way he would ever be able to do it.

Moana has beautiful imagery and portrays stories passed on from generation to generation like it has not been seen before. This film is very colorful and kept the kids’ attention even though the story gets a little complicated with Moana chasing undersea and fiery monsters, which are not terribly scary. Maui’s shape shifting, his tattoo and weapon may need a little further explanation to young ones. But here is another strong Disney female for girls to look up to. This is no Frozen, and you may not be singing these songs as you go out of the theater, but this holiday season, you can set sail for a warm family staycation with heart,  by seeing Moana