Review: ‘Moana’ Is a Delightful Tale of Self-Discovery

Disney's Moana. Promotional image courtesy of Walt Disney Animation Studios.
Written by Andrea Asuaje

By Andrea Asuaje
BU News Service

Daughters may not yet have a female president to emulate, but this year, they’ve got Moana.

“Moana,” Walt Disney Animation Studios’s latest release, tells the story of Moana (played by newcomer Auli’i Cravalho), the rebellious teenage daughter of the chief of Motunui, an island in the Pacific, where a great “darkness” begins to drain the village of its essential resources like fresh fish and coconut. Defying her father’s demands to stay within the reef, Moana sets out across the vast ocean to find demigod Maui, played by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, who can restore the health of her village and islands worldwide by fulfilling an action described by an ancient legend: He must replace the “lost heart” of Te Fiti, a glowing green stone at the center of the mother island, which he stole centuries prior. Only then can harmony and peace to be restored to nature.

Once the two unite — forcibly, in fact, due to the ocean’s insistence that Maui fulfill his ancient duty — Maui and Moana, along with Moana’s brainless pet chicken Hei-Hei, take on a gang of wild coconut pirates, a shiny-shelled crab (played hilariously by Flight of the Conchord’s Jemaine Clement) and a lava monster all in the pursuit of restoring the heart of Te Fiti.

The central thread of the story is knowing oneself: Who are you really? What is your true purpose in life? Moana discovers that, once upon a time, her people were explorers who traveled far and wide to find new islands. She realizes the ocean is her calling. She discovers, sometimes in death-defying ways, that she is meant to be the one legend says will restore balance to the world.

What this movie is not about is romance or romantic love. This is the first Disney princess movie that has no prince or love interest. Large swaths of the movie pass the Bechdel Test, and there is no conversation about romance between Moana and Maui, the characters with the most screen time. Moana, a blend of Mulan and Pocahontas, with a dash of Ariel and Simba, has no time to plan a wedding; she’s got a village to save. And when her demigod sidekick bows out, she decides to take on the monsters on her own, displaying her dedication to what she finds important.

The story is one of not just female empowerment but of universal empowerment and listening to one’s inner voice, be it intuition, a “gut feeling” or the soul — the voice that tells us what our heart truly desires. It displays the great love of family and heritage, urging us to look back and see where we came from and who we can be in the future. The music, composed by “Hamilton” creator Lin Manuel-Miranda, is outstanding, heartfelt and catchy, and pairs perfectly with the story. Visually, the movie is an absolute delight, using 3D to immerse the viewer in the expansive, oceanic world Moana and her friends explore. It is, as a whole, a complete work of art.

“Moana” is a beautiful story about the importance of family, friendship and finding out who you truly are. It’s a perfect Thanksgiving outing for kids and the young at heart, from 1 to 92.

“Moana” sails into a theater near you today, November 23.

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