Moana is a strong, independent woman who don't need no man. Well, she recruits help from a demigod, but when you watch the movie my point still stands. I consider Moana another Disney hit (as if the box office numbers don't already speak for themselves) that deserves attention for its beauty, its sound, and its heart. Disney has created yet another fun animated film with catchy music, exciting adventure, and rich culture. Real culture. Even though I'm not Polynesian, I saw a lot of myself in Moana's design: dark skin, dark wavy hair, brown eyes. Of course I'm not salty about still waiting for a Latina princess movie. At all. But I can move past that to enjoy myself anyway.
The demigod Maui (voiced by Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson) stole the greenstone heart of island goddess Te Fiti until he was attacked by a lava demon and lost it in the sea. The ocean, personified to be a character of its own, chooses Moana (voiced by Auli'i Cravalho) as a child with the heart of Te Fiti. I question why the ocean would give a toddler such an important object, but her grandmother took good care about it in the meantime so I'll let it go. Moana grows up dreaming of sailing across the ocean, but her father insists she focus on her upcoming role as chief of Montunui. You know how that's going to go. Because Te Fiti's missing heart has caused their island to start deteriorating, Moana must follow the call of the ocean and her seafaring ancestors with the loving support of her grandmother behind her.
Moana has a great dynamic with demigod Maui. They create a comedic duo (with no romantic entanglements!) who eventually form an emotional bond. I give snaps to the movie for keeping me engaged with a story that mostly takes place with just two characters out on the ocean. One of my favorite moments in the film was Moana insisting that she wasn't a princess and Maui replying that if she has a dress and an animal sidekick, she's a princess. Moana is the chief's daughter and will soon be chief herself, but she makes clear that this is not the same as a European concept of a princess. Where was this hilarious meta-commentary during Pocahontas? I was disappointed that Moana's idiotic chicken was the animal sidekick rather than the pig. The pig was way cuter.
Because Disney cannot resist its compulsion to make everything musical, we hear songs from Moana, Maui, and other characters throughout. The soundtrack isn't my favorite of all time, but "How Far I'll Go," "Where You Are," and "We Know the Way" have beautiful vocals and sound. I loved that Polynesian talent went behind writing, producing, and voicing Moana, and that the film explored wayfinding, which is how islanders discovered and planted themselves in every habitable island in the Pacific - a real-life historical phenomenon. However, make no mistake that this movie is not a completely accurate representation of Samoans, Tahitians, Hawaiians, and other distinct peoples that were mashed into one island. Perhaps that's obvious, but if people can believe Africa is a country then I must make this disclaimer. I have seen the conflicted response to Moana - pride in being represented on some level and anger at sacred traditions, clothing, mythology, etc. being appropriated, homogenized, and commodified by Disney. So, what to do with this knowledge?
Moana is a fun and inspiring movie that managed to touch me and surprise me. I think there's nothing wrong with appreciating the film, but I hope it encourages people to learn the real history and customs and peoples behind it. If Moana's success inspires its audience to do so, then it will have done a great service to Polynesians and to the world at large. Education is powerful, friends. And so is Moana. Don't let either go to waste.