Moana

I would be remiss to not write something about Moana. I took my daughter to see this film as a Black Friday celebration. Let’s start with the trailer, then go through some comments, with spoilers of course.

There’s so much to say about this film that I’m still a bit speechless and struggle to gather all of my thoughts in a way that makes sense. The premise of the film is that Maui, trickster god that he is, steals the heart of Tafiti, the Mother Goddess of all life. His reasoning is that if he gives the key to making life to the humans, then they’ll be able to also make life and can prosper. At least he seems like he had some good intentions, right? He’s punished, though. Cast away on a remote island, and separated from his fishhook, which is the magical tool that gives him his god-like power (remember, he’s a demi-god).

As a baby, Moana, the chieftain’s daughter, finds the heart and is clearly blessed by the ocean for something far greater than herself.

What follows is this totally, and perfectly, Campbellian hero’s journey, except that it’s a very feminine journey. Moana isn’t a warrior (one of my peeves about female heroes–do they always have to be a warrior to have a hero’s journey? That’s so lame.), but she’s someone who feels a call to adventure. Her grandmother teaches her to listen to those voices that whisper inside of her, and when her island starts to die, she finally listens to that whisper. Her anthem, “How Far I’ll Go,” ranks up there with “Let It Go” for Great Disney Empowerment Anthems. It’s about hearing the Call, and struggling to get to the point where she’ll heed it. The song is reprised throughout the film at key moments when Moana unlocks another aspect of herself, with the final reprise wrapped into the song, “I Am Moana,” which is the moment when, after failing to confront the volcano god, she gains the courage to finish the journey.

And then there’s Maui. Maui is a trickster. He stole fire, raised islands, and many heroic deeds. When we first meet Maui, he literally acts like HE’S the greatest gift to humanity. His song, “You’re Welcome,” sings like the anthem for any dude who thinks that all women should be subservient and thankful for all the things that the male heroes do. But he’s incredibly lonely and doesn’t know how to be a hero without his fishhook. When Moana tells him that he’s no longer a hero to humanity and that the people are suffering, she uses this ego to convince him to go on the journey with her to restore the heart to Tafiti. What he winds up learning along the way is humility, that he’s not all that (and a hook of tricks).

The restoration of Tafiti’s heart can be read as a message of restoring the feminine, taking care of Mother Earth, having respect for the delicate balance of life…whatever flavor you prefer. In light of the rather tumultuous year that 2016 has been, restoring her heart and Tafiti’s forgiveness of Maui is one of the most beautiful, optimistic messages I’ve encountered recently. Everyone learns a little something about themselves.

Moana returns to her people with the boon of knowing how to be a Wayfinder. She reawakens the ancient spirit of her people, who were career adventurers, not domestic farmers. Maui learns new respect for humans and their relationship with the gods. The gods liked that Maui would raise islands with his hook, because it gave the people new places to explore. This was the natural order of things, which got out of balance because Maui took the heart.

My daughter loved the film. She’s just over 4, so she was most scared by the volcano god (of course). She’s started singing the songs and tells everyone that she’s going to Moana’s island (she’s had a Moana doll for about a month now, and she was really excited about seeing the movie). It resonated with the both of us in a strong way.

All I can say is, “Way to go, Disney!” It’s not a perfect adaptation of Polynesian myths, and I’m sure someone will STILL find something wrong with the depiction of Moana. But it is truly a masterpiece of storytelling and animation (Moana has curly hair and Maui has interactive tattoos). I think this is definitely the right story for the right time, much like Frozen was and continues to be. If you want to look at it mythically, the two films go together: one is about listening to the inner voice (Frozen) and the other is about having the courage to let the voice be the guide (Moana).

I leave you with the music video for the celebrity cover of “How Far I’ll Go.” It’s a little too pop for my taste, but it’s worth giving a listen.

Oh, and one last thing: the music was written by the same people who wrote Hamilton. I haven’t seen/heard Hamilton yet, but now I’m totally convinced to give it a try.

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