Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Moana: another Disney adventure with a great message

Moana is the story about an Ancient Polynesian girl who must save her island from a curse. Moana (voiced by Auli’I Cravalho) is the daughter of the chief and has felt the call of the ocean. But her father, Chief Tui (voiced by Temuera Morrison) has forbidden anyone to sail past the reef. Her grandmother, Gramma Tala (voiced by Rachel House) tells her the story of Te Fiti, the mother island who created the islands and life. One day, a demigod, Maui (voiced by Dwayne Johnson) took the heart of Te Fiti. With the heart gone, a demon of fire and earth, Te Ká, seeks the heart and spreads death to island after island. Gramma Tala tells Moana that one day someone will journey across the sea, find Maui and restore the heart of Te Fiti. That day comes when Moana’s island suffers as the food supply dies. Moana finds a boat and defies her father and sails past the reef. She finds Maui who tries to trick her out of her boat but Moana is resourceful and finds a way to compel Maui to help her. The two journey together and battle pirates and mythical monsters. They finally reach Te Fiti, they must battle Te Ká to restore the heart.

I enjoyed the movie. It was uplifting and adventurous as any Disney film would be. I enjoyed seeing a tale which featured a people other than the more commonly told stories. The music was good. The song “How Far I’ll Go,” (written by Lin-Manuel Miranda, performed by Auli’i Cravalho) is a great uplifting song. I loved the songs which featured the native language of the Polynesian people. The only song I didn’t care for was “You’re Welcome” (written by Lin-Manuel Miranda, performed by Dwayne Johnson) was a little awkward at first but then develops into a fun song. Second, I enjoyed how nature and the ocean is a character in the movie. The ocean helps Moana, guides her on each step of her journey. It reminds me of Grandmother Willow in Pocahontas, although the ocean doesn’t speak in Moana. Third, I loved how the movie gives the message that its ok to have second thoughts and doubts. When the journey proves too difficult and there seems no nope to continue, Moana actually gives up and is ready to return home. She is visited by a person who helps her overcome those doubts. She’s very relatable this way. We’ve all had second thoughts and doubts and through Moana, audiences can be encouraged to keep trying.  

There are a few things I didn’t like. First, some of the humor falls flat for me. There is a scene where Moana thinks the ocean has not helped her find Maui and she’s on a desert island, she yells insults at the ocean including a line about fish pee. Then another scene where Maui is teaching Moana how to sail and he tells her to feel the current, if it’s warm you are going in the right direction. She feels the water and it’s cold, then suddenly warm. You see Moana react and you realize that Maui has peed in the water. I know the main audience is children but why does the humor how to usually center on bathroom jokes and gross humor. Second, Moana’s animal sidesick, a chicken named Heihei, seems to be outplace. I know he’s supposed to be the comedic relief during many scenes but sometimes the humor didn’t add to the scene. It was just awkward.

There were a lot of criticisms surrounding Moana and its story. First, a group of Polynesian people criticized Disney for making Maui overweight as an insult to the people and to Maui who is revered as a hero in oral traditions. Osnat Shurer, producer on the film, said they worked closely with different Polynesian groups in the South Pacific and found that each group had a different interpretation and image of Maui. So which one to depict in the film? Overall, I do not see overweight or even obese. He is bigger than life, muscular. There are many images of Polynesian people as fit and muscular. Second, many have called Moana as “cultural theft” which “inaccurately depicts Polynesian culture.” The problem is Polynesia isn’t a singular group but has hundreds of different languages with millions of people with different versions of these stories. So Disney took different aspects of the stories and created a fantasy world. I understand their concern and want the culture and stories accurately depicted. Unfortunately, many stories which Disney has told in the past were changed for the audience. For instance, Hercules (1997) depicts the hero as the son of Zeus and Hera. According to Greek mythology, he’s not the son of Hera. In fact, Hera tries to kill him as an infant. Many Disney stories do not resemble the original story: Pinocchio (1940), Sleeping Beauty (1959), and Cinderella (1950), Mulan (1998), to name a few. Does that mean these movies aren’t enjoyable? No, it doesn’t. If Moana encourages children to read about, explore and experience the Polynesian culture through their stories, to be introduced to the Polynesian people in the world today, what is the harm in that?

Moana is a fun adventure about a people that many do not much about. I enjoyed the music and the look into Ancient Polynesian life and the people who bravely sailed across the ocean and populated the South Pacific. A people who did it long before many thought it was possible. Moana is a great character filled with a desire to help her people that she will brave the open ocean. I loved the message of continuing on your journey despite your second thoughts and doubts. I understand the cultural concerns of a group in the Polynesian community; however, with such a broad area that is Polynesia that even within the area there is a diversity that no movie could accurately depict. Overall, I enjoyed Moana. It is a great addition to the vast Disney movie library. If you haven’t already seen the film, I highly recommend it. It’s available now on Blu-ray and DVD. Check it out.