Personnel: Auli?i Cravalho (vocals).
Moana is the 56th animated feature from Disney, an ocean adventure about a teenaged girl from a tribal community on a mystical island in the South Pacific. Its soundtrack offers both 45 minutes of score and a set of original songs co-written by a trio of musicians with impressive pedigrees. They include frequent Disney collaborator Mark Mancina, who worked with Phil Collins on 1999's Tarzan and 2003's Brother Bear. He's joined by singer/songwriter Opetaia Foa'i, leader of the Polynesian worldbeat group Te Vaka (who can be heard here), and Lin-Manuel Miranda, creator of the Pulitzer-winning Broadway smash Hamilton. The original score is by Mancina, who also penned scores for Disney's Tarzan, Brother Bear, and Planes, among others. Also a veteran of electronics-aided action scores for films like Speed and Con Air, Mancina sticks to an orchestral palette for Moana that highlights brass and group drumming, as on "Prologue" and "Tamatoa's Lair." Mallet percussion, pitched drums, flutes, and choir also distinguish the soundtrack's overall sound. Mancina recorded the vast majority of the score live in the studio with humans and "real" instruments, lending to an authentic feel. The main draw here, though, will be the original songs. Speaking of authenticity, the songs, thankfully, avoid prior Disney faux pas and outright offenses with regard to ethnic stereotyping. They managed this with a conscientious crew and the involvement of Foa'i, a Samoan-born musician with expertise in the region's traditional music. The songs' strong melodies, choral harmonies, and indigenous rhythms may draw certain comparisons to The Lion King, though Moana carves its own path. It does so with an ease that pervades both Foa'i's melodies and Miranda's way with natural-sounding syntax and rhythm. Highlights include "We Know the Way," sung by Miranda and Foa'i, and the soaring "How Far I'll Go," delivered by Auli'i Carvalho in the title role, with a second version by Canadian pop singer Alessia Cara. Among other names appearing on the soundtrack are Dwayne Johnson, who sings "You're Welcome" as Maui, and Jermaine Clement of Flight of the Conchords, who sings "Shiny" as the menacing crab Tamatoa. Closing out the song portion of the album and bringing listeners back to contemporary reality are Jordan Fisher and a rapping Miranda in a reprise of "You're Welcome." ~ Marcy Donelson