Last year my entire family went on a trip to Rarotonga and the island was one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen. The beauty of the island and its people left a permanent mark on our hearts and so that’s why I was sooo freakin’ excited to see the movie Moana. And I was not disappointed. It captured those stunning visuals of the islands that I had in my head, but it added one more element – the most amazing music ever. I am a fan of animation and musicals so it wasn’t going to be hard to impress me. But this film went beyond my imagination. Moana encapsulates everything about the Polynesian islands with visually stunning animation.
Moana is groundbreaking for a few reasons. It is the first Polynesian animated film. It features the first Polynesian princess, Moana. And it’s the first Disney movie to feature a princess without a love interest. Amazing.
The story features Moana and the demigod, Maui. He steals the heart of the island Te Whiti, and in doing so, unleashes a curse that slowly kills the islands in Polynesia. In order to save her home and her people, Moana must venture out past the reef, to the beyond.
Initially, there was some hesitation from the Polynesian community about how their culture would be represented. Moana surprised audiences when it was more considered than they had thought it would be. There is an authenticity within characters and the culture that seems to have eclipsed most reservations. One of the most accurately portrayed characters is the Grandma, voiced by New Zealand actress, Rachel House (Whale Rider, Hunt For the Wilder People).
A few concerns remain though – why was Maui depicted as such an obese character rather than a representation of strength? And also, many Polynesians hope that people don’t think that Moana represents a specific Polynesian people. It doesn’t. It’s a collection of stories from many island cultures.
It’s still a well-loved movie though. It has every element that an animated film should have. A hero, a classic sidekick, actually two classic sidekicks, a pig and a rooster. And a sassy elder, Moana’s adorable and hilarious Grandma. There is also an overprotective dad voiced by New Zealand’s own Timara Morrison (Once Were Warriors). Morrison played a doctor on a well-known medical soap opera called Shortland Street, so he is basically New Zealand’s version of McDreamy. His familiar voice gave me the warm fuzzies because I was able to associate so much of Moana with New Zealand where I grew up.
What’s fantastic about this story is that the focus isn’t Maui, a strong tattooed hero. It is about Moana finding out who she is and Maui is the supporting role. He isn’t the main focus – she is. I also love the fact that this isn’t a love story. It is very rare that an animated movie doesn’t concentrate on finding love. Instead, it is about a girl discovering herself. She finds strength that she never knew she had. And she discovers this strength within herself – not through another person. It is so refreshing.
A saying that I have grown up with is “a ship in the harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are built for”. Moana knows that she is not born to stay in one place. She’s meant to venture beyond into the unknown to find out what is important.
One of the famous songs from the movie is “How Far I’ll Go” and the lyrics create the narrative for the story about adventuring beyond the safety of the shore. The music was written by Lin-Manual Miranda, the absolute genius behind the musical, Hamilton, and his contribution to the film is immeasurable.
I never thought I would say this, but Dwayne Johnson as Maui (Baywatch, The Fate of the Furious) is actually very good in this role and his voice is magnetic. But the real star is 17 year old Native Hawaiian Auli'i Cravalho (Rise), who made her debut as the voice of Moana. In an interview with Harpers Bazaar, she talks about how much she identified with Moana. Being from Hawaii, the Maui folklore was something that she grew up with. She loves those stories. And to top it off, her spoken and singing voices are incredible and she brings so much soul to the character.
Moana was more than I could have imagined. It makes me want to pack up my life and move to the Islands. In fact, I am doing that right now!! *goes online to book tickets, realizes she has no money, sits down and goes and finds some sun outside of her apartment instead.