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  • Writer's pictureAlanna Grayce

Movie of the Month: MOANA

Moana is the daughter of the chief of the village on Montonui, an agricultural and fishing community on a remote island. She is CONSTANTLY drawn towards the ocean, even since she was a tiny toddler- and her father spends years trying to convince her to stay away from the water. Upon her grandmother’s death, Moana is told she was chosen by the ocean to save the islands from the darkness and disease that is overtaking them- when it began affecting their island, grandma and Moana knew it was time.

Now here is a theory of mine- that the Heart of Te Fiti was keeping grandma alive!!! That’s why she is suddenly so achy and has to sit down on the beach, like immediately after handing it over to Moana- and then she dies that night. Moana has never known her grandma to be anything but spry, always practicing dances on the beach with the stingrays playing in the water before her- so Moana literally doesn’t even notice when grandma has to immediately sit down and starts acting off. I think that’s probably why Moana and her dad were so shocked to find grandma’s cane abandoned on a pathway, as well- not only were they hit with the sudden realization that something was badly wrong with their grandmother/mother, but it wasn’t something they had even thought about before because she always seemed so healthy. BUT IT’S BECAUSE THE HEART KEPT HER THAT WAY.

Now, in that time before they found Moana and the chief to let them know grandma was sick, I believe that grandma told Moana’s mom what happened/that Moana was chosen. Like before Moana and her dad got to the main hut where grandma was being cared for, because Mom was there with her. I think this is the case, and that’s why mom was so accepting and even HELPFUL when she found Moana packing to leave. So mom helps her pack food and hugs her bye and stuff- but this leads me to another major question that I have personally never been able to figure out. How long was Moana gone? Like how did she not starve after her canoe got flipped and all her food fell out? Like it was at least 4 or 5 days, with no food. Did the Heart of Te Fiti keep her from feeling hungry or faint, like it kept grandma alive?

So Moana sets off on a canoe of her ancestors’, begins teaching herself to sail (kinda), and she accidentally stumbles upon the demi-god Maui. Which is funny, because that’s who she set out to find… but a storm shook her up, and the ocean got her to where she was supposed to be. We find out throughout the movie that the ocean helps those who help themselves- Moana was trying, but struggling, so she got a little extra help.

Upon finding Maui, he locks her in a cave- she escapes beautifully. During their time together, Maui keeps calling Moana “princess”- which is a direct effort at mocking what they call the Disney Princess Industrial Complex. Moana is very clear that she is not a PRINCESS, she is the daughter of a chief. This is IMPORTANT OK? Because for a long time, princesses were just the girl at the center of the movie, the girl the movie was centered around- but did she do much? Was it really ABOUT her or just around her? Why did the character have to be a princess- couldn’t she just be an interesting woman in her own right?

We’ve seen a lot of Disney movies moving away from this narrative- being a princess has recently been framed more as a burden that the princess, or queen, must deal with. Something that has happened to her without her consent, ya know? She was born into responsibility and societal constructs that she didn’t ask for. Like Elsa running from power, or Merida and Jasmine resisting the imposing and mysoginsitc structures of their culture and title. Disney has slowly begun recognizing princess-ship as a JOB in a way, rather than the highest goal a woman can achieve, only through a marriage or salvation by a handsome prince.

This is super important y’all. I know I keep saying that but it really is. Moana wants to be a leader, to serve her people, to protect them. So by leaving them to find Maui and return the heart of te Fiti, and thus stop the spread of darkness and disease, that’s what she’s doing. But at the same time, she has left her people without their princess and done the exact thing her father, the Chief, has told her a million times will not help the people. He says she needs to stay home to serve and guide them, but Moana realizes that sometimes to lead best you have to put yourself out there in a way you’re advised against.

Ok, now this is something I did not notice until I got wine drunk and watched a few weeks ago. The ancestors wear the same shell necklace as Moana’s grandmother (the one where she keeps the Heart) and the same shell necklace as Dad. This connects them directly, obviously, and makes sense because the chief pictured wearing these necklaces is a direct descendant of Moana and her dad, the Chief. These are heirlooms passed down through generations, representative of their connection to one another and their lineage as the chieftains. So when the necklace that Moana wears is passed down to her from her grandmother, it becomes representative of her ancestors, but her grandmother specifically, and their connection and their constant presence in the lives of those who came after them. We know they are present in a spiritual sense, because the ghosts of her ancestors and grandmother appear to Moana multiple times, to give her information, guidance and encouragement. This also provides us with a really brief but important insight into their community’s perspective on death, ancestors, spirits and the afterlife.

Now, I am going to beat up on Maui for a hot second, ok? It’s not going to last long, because it doesn’t need to. But Maui says he does everything for humans, but when given an actual human child literally dropped in his lap, he is very dismissive of her and doesn’t care about her well-being. Oh, and then he literally locks her in a cave to die. This is why I think he is a classic NARCISSIST- but obviously with a major redemption arc. All of those things he did “for the humans” were just for attention and praise- things he didn't have much of growing up. He spent all this time trying to undo the feelings of rejection he’s carried with him because of his parents’ abandonment, and when he saw his actions were working, he kept it up. But then it created a really negative cycle and fostered narcissism developing within him.

Getting beat up by the crab To Matoa and then Te Kaa really shaves down Maui’s ego, though, and the little coconut people whose names I can’t think of. He starts to realize that he can trust others, specifically Moana- and that’s something he’s probably never done, because the people he was supposed to be able to trust (his parents) weren’t worthy of it. He realizes that help from others isn’t a bad thing, and that it’s ok to rely on someone else. You don’t have to do everything alone, ya know? And this is weirdly something that is shared between him and Moana- they’re both coming to these realizations that life isn’t actually the way they perceived it to be, and that others aren’t an enemy to be kept at arm’s length.

I want to make a quick comparison to traditional European mythologies while we are on this note- The crab To Matoa is like the same conceptually as a dragon with a hoard. A greedy, great being, who wants to collect shiny and valuable things just for the sake of having them. Think about Smaug in The Hobbit- Smaug is just inherently greedy. It’s not necessarily evil, because it seems to just be the nature of the beast, literally- but he collects and hoards just for the sake of it. When the dwarves and Bilbo infiltrate his domain, that’s when problems arise and he begins to decimate the village on the lake as punishment. We don’t see exactly this kind of situation in Moana, but the concept is very much the same- a greedy creature WHO ADMITS TO EATING HIS GRANDMOTHER just because. It’s kind of nice, in a way, to see this demonization of greed, and to see Moana and Maui taking ONLY WHAT THEY NEED- the hook.

Now at the end of the movie, Maui’s willingness to sacrifice himself and his hook for Moana represents his realization of his true self and his true mythos- when he does the haka in preparation to die, like absolutely kills me, chills all over my body. He is facing down a GODDESS OF CREATION with only his bare body, and he is doing it with resolve and bravery. Here we see his evolution as a character come to fruition. This is important, and I'll explain why in one second.

First though i have to mention how Maui’s hook is previously (in our time, but later chronologically in the Disney Cinematic Universe) seen as a necklace on David in Lilo and Stitch. This makes me wonder, because of the whole necklace thing earlier with Moana, grandma, dad-chief and the ancestors; is he a descendant of Maui!!?

Ok back to the explanations- this movie carries major themes of forgiveness and sympathy, such as understanding Te Kaa in spite of her outside appearance, rage, poison and violence; seeing past this lashing out and looking AT HER HEART. Same concept but with Maui- Moana forgives him for his transgression against humankind, when he stole the heart (with good intentions but still) and released Te Kaa’s rage and poison into the world. Moana learns to forgive her father for the fear he tried to force her to live by. Te Fiti forgives Maui for stealing her heart and causing a bunch of problems. Dad realizes he was holding Moana back from great things, and forgives her for the hurt she caused him when she left. It’s all there y’all.

Te Fiti is this Creator goddess who (tests?) her creations/children for good-heartedness, humility, empathy, courage and forgives quickly. Not a goddess of ruthless vengeance, though that is kind of exactly what Te Kaa was- but that’s because Te Kaa isn’t HER WHOLE SELF. TE KAA IS ONLY A PART OF HER TRUE SELF, MISSING THAT WHICH MAKES HER WHOLE. This just drives home the importance of empathy, understanding and forgiveness- if people had taken a hot sec to not run away from Te Kaa, maybe they would’ve figured out the solution earlier. Idk. just a thought.

Now, like I said earlier, THE OCEAN HELPS THOSE WHO HELP THEMSELVES. This theme carries through the movie, and is actually directly related to Moana’s journey. Her father, in an effort to continue living safely as they had long done, had resigned himself to never leaving the island because he saw no other way. Moana, however, realized that no one else could help their people survive when the poison of Te Kaa’s rage found its way to their island, and she had to go out and do what she could for her people, no matter what it cost her.

In this very vein of analysis we find that the movie is about finding your own path and not letting well intentioned advice get in the way of you developing your own beliefs. You can’t just be told Te Kaa is evil and take someone else’s word for it- what’s her motivation? Why is she behaving like this? Possibly because she is no longer whole and is searching for the piece of herself that’s missing? Why is chief-dad keeping Moana from the ocean? Not because he’s a bad guy and doesn’t want his daughter to be happy- but he has to let Moana figure stuff out on her own, and she does. Hell, even Grandma makes Maui sound like an ass- but we realize he isn’t, he just doesn’t know who he is and is trying to impress people instead of being himself.

I think this is such an important movie, y’all. From the significance of forgiveness and finding your own way, to the fact that NATURAL PINK TONES are allowed to be beautiful, feminine and strong... this is the kind of movie I want my nieces to watch. To grow up confident, self-assured and courageous. Plus, I relate very much for a lot of different reasons.. not least of which that her sidekick piggy Pua has huge Wynnergy, y’all. Very much the same vibe. Except Wynn would not have allowed me to get on that canoe alone. She would've alerted the whole village out of spite lmao.


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