“That Voice Inside is Who You Are”

Moana

The movie exposes us to the ancient Polynesian culture (Polynesia incorporates Hawaii, Samoa, New Zealand, Tahiti and other Pacific Islands), exploring the “Long Pause” in Polynesian voyaging. Newcomer Auli’i Cravalho voices titular Moana (meaning “ocean”), Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson voices Maui, and Alan Tudyk (who was just Weasel) is Heihei the chicken. I heard the soundtrack (Lin-Manuel Miranda, famous for the Broadway hit Hamilton, co-wrote the songs) for months before I ever saw the movie thanks to the kids’ zone across from the store I work at. And I’m going to go ahead and apologize if I misspell anything.

The prologue introduces the legend of Te Fiti, the mother island emerging from the ocean. Her heart could create life and she shared it with the world. Years pass and the demi-god of the wind and sea, Maui; a trickster, a warrior, and shape-shifter, stole Te Fiti’s heart. “Without her heart, Te Fiti began to crumble, giving birth to a terrible darkness.” Te Kā, a demon of earth and fire, blocks Maui’s escape. He’s knocked from the sky, never to be seen; his magical fish hook, which gives him the power to shape-shift, was lost to the sea. The heart, a green stone, is also lost. Little Moana is intrigued by the story, while the other children are frightened. Her grandmother explains that the darkness has been spreading for a thousand years, draining the life from island after island. “But, one day, the heart will be found by someone who will journey far beyond our reef. Find Maui. Deliver him across the great ocean to restore Te Fiti’s heart and save us all.”

Moana’s father (the chief) enters and warns the children that no one goes beyond the reef. They are safe on their island. There are no monsters and no darkness, he soothes. His mother insists the legends are true. While they debate, little Moana wanders down to the shore. She finds a baby turtle stuck on shore and carries a leaf, so the baby will have shade and shoos away birds that would eat the morsel. In thanks, the ocean parts and plays with the small child. It gives Moana a green stone, but she drops is when her father plucks her from the water. “It’s time you knew the village of Motunui is all you need,” he tells his daughter, who will one day be chief. But she’s still called to the water and her father has to keep retrieving her, insisting she stays on the ground, “happiness is Where You Are.” He schools her on the traditions of their village; all they need is provided on the island. Yet his mother still dances next to the water and teaches her granddaughter that while she is her father’s daughter, stubborn and proud, a voice inside may give her a new direction. Moana must discover who she is.

Her father takes Moana to the top of a sacred mountain, showing her a stack of stones, one set down by every chief. When her time comes, she will place her own stone on top. She needs to be who the people need. Moana accepts her duty and starts advising people. Except their harvest is poor. Coconuts turn black. There are no fish; they’ve tried every spot. Moana suggests beyond the reef and the chief still refuses; no one goes beyond the reef. Her mother counsels Moana; her father is hard on her because he was her years ago. He ventured beyond the reef with his best friend, but they encountered a storm and the friend drowned. Her father can save Moana by keeping her on the island. “Sometimes who we wish we were, what we wish we could do, is just not meant to be.”

But, as hard as Moana tries, she’s always led back to the water, always longs to be there. “It calls me/ and no one knows/ how far it goes.” She can try to live in her role, but he ocean still calls. So she takes a canoe out, determined to see How Far I’ll Go; “there’s more beyond the reef.” However, her canoe capsizes in the rough water at the reef; Moana almost drowns. When she collapses back on shore, her grandmother is waiting. Moana claims that her father was right. Instead, her grandmother leads her to a covered cave to learn another legend of their people. Bang the drum, her grandmother instructs, and find out who you were meant to be. Inside, there are larger boats. Once the drum sounds, the sails tell the story of how Motunui was founded; We Know the Way, they said. “We were voyagers!” Moana exclaims. Her grandmother explains further; they stopped when boats stopped coming back, because of Maui and the spreading darkness. She shows Moana that the darkness has come to their island. Then reminds her of the legend that foretold someone would venture beyond the reef, find Maui, and restore the heart of Te Fiti. Grandma gives Moana the green stone, reminding her that the ocean chose her.

Moana rushes to the council meeting, insisting they can stop the darkness by finding Maui. They were once voyagers, they can be so again. The chief has had enough. He marches off to burn the boats. They’re called back to the village; his mother is dying. Grandma whispers to Moana “Go.” She rushes out, her mother helps her pack, and she loads one of the boats she discovered. The spirit of a sting ray (her grandmother had said she would come back as one and bore a tattoo of one) leads her over the reef and “soon I’ll know, How Far I’ll Go.”

screaming chickenThe next morning Moana discovers a stowaway, Heihei the chicken (and the funny scene of the screaming and coconut). The journey is not easy. Her boat turns over again in a storm and she asks the ocean for help. She wakes on a shore – the island where Maui has been marooned. Moana meets the demi-god who insists that he stole the heart to help mortals, he’s their hero. He brought them fire and the breeze and the sun. You’re Welcome. Then he traps Moana in a cave and tries to steal her boat. Moana escapes and the ocean puts her on the boat, even after Maui tries to throw her off a few times. The stone is a magnet for danger, he claims. And they’re soon set upon by the Kakamora (which look like evil coconut people). Moana further demonstrates her cleverness and her determination to see the mission through.

She persuades Maui to do his duty and return the heart; he’d be a hero again. Fine, they find his hook first, then they’ll return the heart. In the meantime, Moana asks Maui to teach her to sail. “It’s called way finding, princess,” Maui corrects. Moana states she’s the daughter of a chief, not a princess. “If you wear a dress and have an animal sidekick, you are a princess.” (Leaning on the fourth wall, ey, Disney? While Moana is not in the “official” princess line-up, she is seen alongside the other princesses in clips from Wreck-It Ralph 2, and fits the same criteria as Pocahontas {daughter of the chief, with an animal sidekick, saves her people}, who is part of the “official” line-up. I just thought it was funny that they bring it up in the movie and call attention what everyone notices about Disney’s princesses.)

The pair must sail to Lalotai, the Realm of Monsters in order to retrieve Maui’s hook from Tamatoa, the collector crab. He enjoys talking about himself and how Shiny he is [I dislike this song, it doesn’t fit with the rest of the soundtrack; I understand why, but still, it’s weird.] Moana distracts the crab with a fake stone so she and Maui can escape. His shape shifting powers are on the fritz, though we do briefly see him transform into Sven. Maui tries to leave the mission again. He explains how he came to be a demi-god; he was born mortal, but his parents threw him into the sea. The gods found him and saved him, gifting the magical fish hook. He uses his powers to help mankind, hoping they’ll love him. But it was never enough. Now he’s not sure he’s worthy to be saved. Moana encourages him; the powers and the hook don’t make Maui, he does. Further encouraged by his mini-me tattoo, he gets his mojo back.

They finally reach Te Fiti and Maui goes to return the heart, but the demon, Te Kā throws fireballs and clashes with Maui’s hook. The boat is pushed back and Maui’s hook is cracked. “Without my hook, I am nothing!” Maui shouts, and leaves. Moana now believesi am moana that the mission is truly hopeless and begs the ocean to choose someone else. The spirit of her grandmother comforts her; she should have never put all the pressure on Moana. If she wants to return home, her grandmother will help. “The people you love will change you, the things you have learned will guide you,” does Moana know who she is? “I am a girl who loves my island, I am the girl who loves the sea, it calls me.” Spirits of the old voyagers appear around her. “And the call isn’t out there at all, it’s inside me…come what may, I know the way. I Am Moana!” [that song gives me goosebumps] She swims down to the stone and when she pops back up, the spirits have vanished. But she knows what to do. She repairs her boat and sets off for Te Fiti again.

She dodges Te Kā’s attacks, seems to go for one opening, then doubles back through the other. But a wave capsizes her again, yet Maui flies to the rescue. He’ll distract Te Kā, so Moana can get to Te Fiti. But when she stands on top of the one island, there’s only the outline of a woman below. Then she notices the swirl on her stone matches one on Te Kā’s chest. She shows the stone and asks the ocean to “let her come to me.” The ocean splits and Te Kā rushes to the small young woman. “I know your name/ they have stolen the heart from inside you/ but this does not define you/ this is not who you are/ you Know Who You Are.” Te Kā pauses in front of Moana. The woman places the heart in the center of the spiral. Greenery overtakes the lava stone and Te Fiti emerges. She smiles down at the little heroine. Moana and Maui are brought before her; Maui apologizes and he receives a new hook (the old one was destroyed while he fought Te Kā). Te Fiti gifts a new boat to Moana. The goddess then lays down and reverts back to a beautiful island.

te_fiti_&_moana

Moana offers that Maui could return with her to Motunui. He won’t, but she’ll see him around. He gains a new tattoo of her (he had earlier explained that he receives a new tattoo when he’s earned them). Moana returns home to her island and her pleased parents. Her father remarks that going past the reefs suits Moana and they pull out the old boats. Moana teaches what she’s learned of way finding and they set sail again (a shell sits on top the rock pile on the mountain).

I enjoyed this movie a lot; the story was different, it showcased another culture that I have developed an interest in (due to Hobbit and Lord of the Rings being filmed in New Zealand and the country and people showcased in the behind the scenes features, and starting to watch the rebooted Hawaii Five-0 series). Moana is an amazing character, well rounded and developed. While she loves the water and it calls to her, she is willing to do her duty and doesn’t complain. There is value in serving others and putting them ahead of yourself (or as Spock would say, “The good of the many outweigh the good of the few or the one.” Though there are times when that can be broken, as all rules are subject to). She goes on a physical journey as well as a personal journey. She stands up to demi-god Maui (not my favorite character, until we got deeper; he was very brash to start with, almost Gaston-like). The grandmother was sassy; I like sassy characters. Her death was sad, but did not leave me a sobbing mess.

I didn’t see the ending as a twist so much; Te Kā appeared more as a guardian to Te Fiti. But the scene was beautiful and how the goddess appeared as balancing elements. I enjoyed the bulk of the soundtrack, typically the songs that featured Moana. Not a huge fan of You’re Welcome, again because of the bragging, and Shiny was just weird.
So, that’s it! I’ll be moving on from animated Disney movies, after a wrap up blog next time. A few live action Disney films, mainly Pirates of the Caribbean, then onto some other action-adventure categories. But first, weigh in on what is your favorite Disney animated film (or live-action adaptation). And your favorite Disney hero/princess and villain (i.e., who do you love to hate, or who do you root for, or who do you think is the most well-developed). Heck, what’s your favorite Disney soundtrack?

Coming Soon: Enchanted (could count as a Disney princess movie; we’ll get into that during the post)

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