Rating the music of Disney’s Moana
It’s official! Moana is the latest Disney film to enter the pantheon of Disney animated classics. This stirring tale of a young, headstrong chieftain’s daughter (okay fine, Disney merchandising execs, “Princess”) is an absolute delight. Moana adds to the recent winning streak of Disney animation that started with The Princess and the Frog and continued on through Zootopia. But perhaps more importantly, Moana hearkens back to a time when Disney animated films were more than just movies, but also musicals that perfectly melded touching stories with heartfelt ballads and ensemble pieces. The so called Disney Renaissance between 1989 to 1999 produced 10 films, including at least four that sit in the top 10 of nearly any Disney buffs list (The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King, Aladdin).
Tangled and Frozen helped to kick off the second renaissance of the Disney musical, and Moana is clearly following in the footsteps of its illustrious predecessors. Under the musical guidance of Mark Mancina, Opetaia Foa’i and Lin-Manuel Miranda (I forget, what is he famous for again?), Moana has turned out another series of ear catching beats that you’ll be humming to yourself well through the holidays. But how do these new songs stack up to the towering Disney classics before them. Here’s my take on the songs from the movie.
An Innocent Warrior – This introduction song sung entirely in a mixture of Pacific Islander languages is a great tone setter for the style of the music about to come. It’s plaintive, yet hopeful, and fills the listener with emotions, even if they don’t understand a single word.
Spiritual Predecessor: Circle of Life (Lion King)
Where You Are – The most upbeat, “stay in your lane” song in recorded history, this is probably my favorite song of the movie in terms of pure effervescent joy. It’s the song that introduces us to our main cast of characters, while simultaneously explaining that motivations of various secondary characters. Moana’s father explains in song the importance of the village and the dangers of the ocean. Moana’s grandmother explains the importance of following the voice inside.
Spiritual Predecessor: Belle (Beauty and the Beast), One Jump Ahead (Aladdin)
How Far I’ll Go – Ah, the power ballad. The song where our protagonist sings about what they want out of life. It’s a common Disney refrain, but it is almost always effective. And How Far I’ll Go is no exception. Auli’I Cravalho’s superb vocal work perfectly captures the earnest longing of someone who has been forced into an unwanted role and the natural wanderlust of youth.
Spiritual Predecessor: Part of Your World (The Little Mermaid), Let It Go (Frozen)
We Know The Way – A sweeping epic that tells the story of Moana’s tribal history, it pairs some truly stunning open ocean visuals with a lively drum beat. This is the uplifting version of Where You Are. The song that tells Moana about who she is meant to be, rather than who she is forced to be. The only slight quibble about this song is that after listening to the Hamilton soundtrack on repeat for the past 11 months, I kept thinking to myself, “Wait, what is Alexander Hamilton doing in the South Pacific?”
Spiritual Predecessor: Under the Sea (The Little Mermaid), Be Our Guest (Beauty and the Beast)
You’re Welcome – If you’re a fun sidekick, you’re going to have a fun sidekick song. And Maui, Moana’s demigod traveling companion, is no exception. Dwayne Johnson show off some surprising pipes in this lighthearted song about Maui’s great deeds that also serves to highlight Maui’s deluded egotism.
Spiritual Predecessor: Friend Like Me (Aladdin)
Shiny – Villains have motives too. Even if they do generally end up requiring the main character to be eaten, enslaved or exiled. And though villain songs are rarely the best song in the movie, Shiny is a unique standout, primarily due to the distinctive musical voice and lyricism of Jemaine Clement (Flight of the Conchords), who brings an offbeat sense of whimsy to his song about vanity.
Spiritual Predecessor: Poor Unfortunate Souls (The Little Mermaid), Be Prepared (The Lion King)