‘Moana’ is an animated musical bursting with gorgeous visuals

Moana, voiced by Auli’i Cravalho, in a scene from the animated film, “Moana.” (AP Images)

Indeed, Moana IS a princess in that she is next in line to become the ruler of a Polynesian island where the people live in harmony, with only one rule all must abide by:

Never go beyond the reef.

But this is a princess with a lot of pep in her step. This is a princess who’s all about smashing unseen but very real ceilings.

Come on. We wouldn’t have much of a Disney animated movie if Moana obeyed that “Stay at Home!” rule and lived out the rest of her days overseeing the gathering of coconuts and the preparations of meals and the singing of songs about how nobody should ever leave the island, now would we?

Moana is not the old-fashioned Disney princess who twirls about the castle in fancy gowns and movie-star makeup, awaiting her prince or pining for her prince or hoping a prince will kiss her. (In fact, there’s not a prince in sight in this movie.) She is a smart, independent, brave and adventurous explorer, she is a loyal friend, she has a deep and powerful love for her family, and she is a Girl Power role model swooping into theaters and onto the pop culture landscape at just the right time.

“Moana” probably won’t match the box-office power of “Frozen,” and the signature song titled “How Far I’ll Go” most likely won’t match the ubiquitous earworm level of “Let It Go” — but it’ll be close in both departments.

This is a surefire box-office smash, bursting with gorgeous visuals, filled with inspirational messages, chock full of gentle and quite clever humor and nicely seasoned with a handful of catchy, hook-driven pop songs. It deserves an Academy Award nomination for best animated feature.

Newcomer Auli’i Cravalho delivers a thoroughly charming performance as Moana, the 16-year-old princess who disobeys her father’s orders and sets sail beyond the reef on a quest to save her people.

Accompanied by a really, really, REALLY stupid chicken (an odd and not always winning choice for an animal sidekick), Moana sets sail into the vast, forbidding, stormy, treacherous seas. We segue into a buddy movie when Moana teams up with the preening, trash-talking, formerly powerful demigod Maui, who is voiced by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, who is quite good with the comedic byplay and not terrible when called upon to sing.

While the overall tone of “Moana” is uplifting, the story makes room for some pretty deep insights, as when Maui says Moana doesn’t know how to give up, and Moana says: No, she knows exactly how to give up, and she knows how easy it is to give up. Which of course makes it all the more rousing and exciting when Moana finds it within herself to NOT give up.

Dwayne Johnson shines as Maui. First and foremost, though, is Auli’i Cravalho, winning the day and carrying the movie as the wonderful and quite lovable Moana.

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