This film had been on my “get around to watching” list since its release last November, so with it being summer and with me getting my ocean fix, it seemed like the perfect time to watch Disney’s Moana.
Perhaps to get as far away from their last princess film, Disney set this story in the South Pacific. Instead of snow, we got ocean. (Although both involved protagonists with supernatural connections to water…) In a radical departure from previous “princess” stories, there was no romance at all. Even Brave contained an element of romance, in that chieftains’ sons were supposed to be competing for Merida’s hand. Moana is just about Moana and her heroics. The film is about finding one’s place, following one’s calling, and figuring out what the “right thing” to do is (and then how to accomplish it). There is indeed love – love for family, home, and community; love for the environment; and love for one’s heritage.
The age of Moana, our teenage heroine, is unspecified, but she seems to be about fourteen. In other words, she is not too young for romance entirely, but too young for modern audiences to identify with a realistic romantic storyline for her. That would have been a different film and we might have enjoyed it in the right historical context, but it would not have resonated with viewers. Thankfully, we got this film instead!
Moana is chosen when she is still a small child by the ocean itself to restore balance to the islands. Meanwhile, she is also heir to her father in a long line of chiefs. Her people have decided to remain on their current island because it seems to be safe, even though the environment is getting worse and unsustainable. Moana’s father discourages her love of the ocean and teaches her how to follow in his footsteps. Rather than simply exhibiting youthful rebellion, Moana chooses to do as is expected of her and it is only out of a love and concern for her people’s wellbeing and future that she eventually defies her father and sets off on her adventure.
There is still plenty of escapism to be had, but Disney has done well with creating a family film that is magical and inspiring while still being relatable. It is a fairy tale, but the ending is not “and they lived happily ever after” – although it could be implied, the story is the one that every young person has to go through from childhood to adulthood. Growing up is not an ending.
Moana gets to go on a heroic quest – a job usually reserved for males in these types of stories. Her character could have been a boy and there would be little change needed for the plot to work. In fact, nothing would have been different. It is nice to see a girl playing the every-person figure. Moana is not special because she is female – she is special because she is the hero. Boys and girls should theoretically both be able to identify with her and her quest.
That said, having environmental balance being restored by a woman makes a lot of poetic sense. Nonetheless, it is not discussed in the film. Moana is simply on her quest. A male version of her could have theoretically completed it. I am not complaining though – heroines in their own right are needed and Moana is a wonderful example.
The characters, scenery, and music in the film are wonderful. The story is timeless, albeit very timely. This is not my new favourite, but it is not one I will relegate to the “not bothering to see again” list. (One of the luxuries of no children is having such a list.)
And yes, I will eventually watch it in French as well.