There are some ways in which Moana is very reminiscent of countless other Disney films. A young girl is dissatisfied with her lot in life and wants to venture out beyond her established borders, despite constant orders from an authority figure not to stray too far from home. She leaves anyway, and what follows is a magical adventure in which she grows a lot as a person and lots of colorful characters sing songs.
Honestly, considering how well Moana hits those notes — no matter how often we've heard them — it would still make for an enjoyable trip to the movies. Thankfully, the movie's heroine proves to be more than just another Disney princess.
The titular Moana (voiced by newcomer Auli'i Cravalho, who surely has a bright future ahead of her) is a pseudo-princess who doesn't care for her title of chief's daughter, and she would much rather explore the seas than lead her people — despite being quite good at the latter. Her father has done his best to convince her to "find happiness right where you are," so it's not until her island's crops start dying and the fishermen come home empty handed when she has an excuse to leave.
She leaves to seek out Maui (Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson), a demigod who years earlier inadvertently cursed Moana's people by trying to steal the Heart of Te Fiti, which is said to contain the power of creation. Moana is chosen for this quest by the ocean itself, and as such she has some control over its power.
Moana makes for a great role model for young children, especially girls. She's confident and self-sufficient, she cares about the well-being of others and she sticks up for herself. Perhaps most notably, though, there isn't even a tiny suggestion of romance or a love interest.
At first listen, none of the music is quite as catchy as Frozen's "Let It Go" (though parents might be pleased that the music won't be played on repeat that often), written in large part by Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda, still has wonderful beats and memorable lyrics that will have you tapping your toes. You might be surprised to find yourself humming "You're Welcome" (sung by The Rock) days after you see the movie. Or you might have nightmares listening to "Shiny," sung by a crab (Flight of the Conchords' Jemaine Clement) who is unsettling in the same way as The Little Mermaid's Ursula.
A cast of side characters (including a very brainless but hilarious rooster) fill out the plot, but this is primarily Moana and Maui's show, and they're both worth the time you spend with them.
PG (for peril, some scary images and brief thematic elements). 103 minutes. Opens Nov. 23 in wide release.