Moana is the daughter of the chief of her island. Her people farm and fish, content to be a world unto themselves. Moana is an adventurer, and she is desperate to see what lies beyond their reef. But as her father and the rest of the community constantly, cheerfully remind her, “no one leaves.”
What her father doesn’t know is that when Moana was a little girl, the ocean chose her to be the one who would save all the islands from destruction, to reverse the actions of Maui. A major character in Polynesian mythology, the demigod Maui is both heroic (he pulled the islands out of the sea with his magical fishhook) and troublesome—he has stolen the Heart of Te Fit. As a result, the islands are dying. This is beginning to happen to Moana’s own beloved island.
One day her grandmother helps her discover a hidden cave, where Moana finds that her people are actually descendants of sea voyagers who explored the ocean. Her grandmother tells her that her job is to bring the “Heart,” a glowing stone, back where it belongs. To do this, she will need to find Maui. Moana takes off on a seafaring adventure, learning to be a good sailor while facing many obstacles. The ocean itself helps her along, even parting a way for her to walk across dry land, Red Sea style.
This animated film abounds in beautiful ocean settings, starry night skies, and lush tropical islands. Moana is a strong female character who respects her elders and still believes that she can be part of changing what is wrong in her world.
Maui, the arrogant, self-absorbed demigod, is the foil to her character. Moana is young and has little power, but she’s willing to do whatever she can; Maui is big and powerful, but he really only cares about himself. Moana’s example eventually teaches Maui about sacrificial service to the greater good.
As with most mythology, this story includes spiritual elements that may require consideration for parents. A demigod creator, a demon created by the selfish acts of others, and the fact that Moana basically prays to the ocean for help are elements that parents might wish to address.
However, Moana is a refreshing female character of color and realistic body proportions who isn’t looking for a boyfriend or a husband. Moana is not among the best of the best Disney movies, but Disney needn’t worry. With its great animation, the proud-but-likeable Maui, and music co-written by Hamilton creator and star Lin-Manuel Miranda, Moana is bound to be a hit. (Disney)
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