*All photo credits: Disney Animation Studios
(1) Representation: My twenty year old son, who happens to be quite “woke” was literally thrilled with Moana’s appearance in the movie. He loved her curly long hair and full lips and couldn’t get over how much Moana looks like one of his younger sisters. To see him get so excited over a person on screen who bears similar features to people in his family was equally as thrilling for me. I can only imagine how it feels for people of the South Pacific. Kudos to the artists for letting melanin live on screen.
(2) Maui: What’s not to love about a demi-god who is fashioned after real life god, Dwayne Johnson? (*okay, man-crush aside) Seriously, Maui was a human anointed by the gods of Polynesia, with a tragic backstory, who dedicated his life to serving humans, and it backfired when he tried to do too much. Dwayne Johnson excels at most of what he does in life, and voicing this character is no exception. He carries on conversations with his animated tattoos, the idiotic chicken, and monsters who live in a dimension beneath the sea, accessible only by diving into a bottomless volcano. He embodies all that is amazing about the South Pacific, and even performs a haka that gave me goosebumps. The best part about Maui is that he has human emotions that we can all relate to: self-doubt, impatience, narcissism, and most of all, compassion and love.
(3) Humankind’s relationship with nature: My children and I were discussing this as our family drove home from a relative’s place after the holiday. It’s actually a an abstract concept to grasp and I admired their attempts to put it in words. We drew a comparison between climate change, and humanity’s impact on the earth. We talked about other times that the earth’s climate changed drastically (the Ice Age, Noah’s Biblical flood, the continental shifts and the oceanic origin of the Sahara desert), and acknowledged that whatever was living on this planet during those times was both negatively and positively affected by those changes.
The earth is in perfect balance with itself at all times. It can change and transform itself with or without human intervention. But when we actively disrupt that balance, as we have been doing violently over the past several centuries, we force mother earth to find ways to defend herself. The central conflict of Moana, is that the people had thrown off the balance of nature, and had to make it right, restore the balance, in order to enjoy the abundance of the earth’s bounty.
(4) Polynesian mythology: On their quest to restore the heart of Ta Fiti, Maui and Moana encounter some little troll-like beings called the Kakamora. I did a little internet background research and learned the the Kakamora are legendary creatures that could have possibly lived on the Solomon Islands. They are the equivalent of the the trolls or other mythological beings found in literature. Things like this and learning about the beliefs of the Southern Pacific people are fascinating and help us all open our eyes.
(5) Te Ka vs. Ta Fiti
The movie paid homage to the Polynesian Goddess, Ta Fiti. I love when the goddess shows up in media. In this film, the heart of the goddess was stolen by Maui, in an ill-advised attempt to give humans power over the earth. But the result was an imbalance between man and nature, and Ta Fiti, without her heart, became a bitter and angry monster named Te Ka.
Ta Fiti as Te Ka represents human’s mishandling of the earth’s resources. Specifically, Moana’s tribe was meant to explore the South Pacific as nomadic wayfinders who moved from island to island periodically. However, they had become afraid due to the disruption caused by Maui’s mistake.
Once Moana realized that the monster Te Ka was the angry Goddess, she said, “Let her come to me,” fearlessly standing face to face with her fear, before restoring life to Ta Fiti, and balance to nature.
(6) The Grandma and ancestral spirits
All I can say is that Moana’s grandma was woke! She’s the one who saw Moana’s gift, encouraged her to follow her heart and go on an adventure, and she came back in spirit form to comfort Moana when she was feeling discouraged.
The best part about grandma? She had a stingray tattooed on her back because she had intuited that was her spirit animal, and had already chosen that her next lifetime would be spent as a stingray.
The infusion of belief in spirit animals, reincarnation, and ancestor divination was just amazing!
(7) The Ocean as a character
This was another aspect of the film I absolutely loved! It is not specified if the ocean itself was a separate deity or an extension of Ta Fiti, but the ocean played a huge role in the movie and it was exquisite. Yet another symbolic reminder of humankind’s intense connection with the elements, and a visual representation of how respect for our earth translates into power for all of us.
Along with all the regular fun Disney stuff: comic relief, awesome songs by Lin Manuel, phenomenal animation, and all the goodies we expect from a multi-billion dollar entertainment company; and despite allegations of racism in their corporate offices, if Disney’s sole aim is to make money entertaining black and brown people, then they have earned my dollars for this one. Kudos.