Jaime Rebanal’s review published on Letterboxd :
One of my own closest friends as a result of social media was a girl of Polynesian descent. She told me at one point that she was more excited for Moana than she was any other Disney film because she loved seeing the fact that her culture would have been put into the spotlight for a wider audience to witness. When I watched Moana, I was always thinking of her - a number of memories flashed back right in front of my own face, and soon I was thinking about how she would have felt to have seen Moana. My only guess is a bright smile is set to come from her, for Moana got one out of myself.
Directors Ron Clements and John Husker of The Little Mermaid tell the story of Moana, the heir to a chief on the Polynesian island Motunui, selected by the ocean in order to reunite an artifact with a goddess, in turn bringing her to seek the demigod Maui so that everything can come back together to how it was meant to be. Although I'm not exactly the most knowledgeable person to talk with about Polynesian culture, the amount of passion to which I felt was ever present in Moana when it came down to the smallest of details whether it be from the islands or the lifestyles was enough to buy me into what efforts were put together in order to shine a light for the common moviegoer. It was more than ever present within the beautiful animation or the catchy musical numbers coming in.
But when I look at Moana herself, there was something to her that resonated with me the way I wish many other female protagonists in Disney films had done so. Moana, voiced beautifully by first-timer Auli'i Cravalho, was not like any of the other "Disney princesses" as one could brand such characters, for Moana is a film defined by her own independence. She is shown as the heir of a chief and yet this role is still not satisfactory to her because she still feels trapped someplace else. Yet why is it that she is pursuing her quest? There's no romantic interest of any sort coming along the way to motivate Moana, but she's searching for a strength amidst herself to become something more than what her own role among her own people is leaving her with. It's an arc that resembles Merida with Disney-Pixar's Brave but where Brave fails with its exploration, Moana triumphs.
It was in Moana herself, I saw her once again. A mirror that served as a reflection for my own friend, whom I made reference to in the first paragraph. Everything I loved about Moana herself, it rang so perfectly in regards to what had always hit me so perfectly whenever I was chatting with said friend of my own. She was always free-spirited, open to something new, and during her moments together with Maui, I look at them almost like the many times which we had with each other. Never direct, per se, but I was always introducing her to something new just as she always helped me in finding something lost about myself, just as Maui was for the many years he had spent until Moana had come along. After she had disappeared off social media and only come back on that rare occasion, I was reminded by Moana how I wanted those moments of my life to come back to me.
All throughout Moana, I only felt happy that so much of this had been coming back to me. It doesn't matter where it had come from, whether it be from the soundtrack, the animation, or the voice acting on all counts whether it be newcomers like Auli'i Cravalho or familiar faces like Dwayne Johnson or Jemaine Clement, it came all about from what Moana represented at its core. For it struck so many memories accordingly to that level I knew I wanted something coming back to me. It hit me only in a way I would have remembered my first viewing of The Little Mermaid had done so when I was a child - and knowing who was responsible for Moana said beauty to be found in here only brought myself back to those days of hand-drawn Disney animation for how much I miss them so dearly.
The moment I finished Moana, I would never stop thinking about how she would have thought about the fact that she was finally seeing her own culture given a spotlight for once. Like I've noted, I only felt a sense of joy within myself for I can only imagine that she would do the same. We aren't exactly going into completely new ground with Moana, but if there were something that I had always admired when I watch Disney films, it would be from the respect that they carry for their viewers within their own storytelling - they understand everything far too well and only want to pass it on from generation to generation. It all works so perfectly and it brought a smile out of me.
A side note to my friend:
Palataisi, if you by any chance happen to be reading this, I want you to know I'm only waiting for the day you come back. I've missed you dearly, but for all those memories we had together, I can't thank you enough.