If you haven’t seen it already, get yourself a Disney+ account or go to the store to buy the Blu-Ray to watch Moana. It’s the story of a young girl living on the island of Motunui in Polynesia who wants to know what more there is to life outside of her village. Her father, the chief, forbids travel beyond their reef due to tragedy in his youth but life and Moana are determined to see her go above and beyond. Also the ocean is alive and is the one sending her on this quest. You know, classic hero’s journey stuff.
From that brief summary, we can already see glimpses of past Disney heroes and princesses. The hunger for adventure, the strain against parental control, supernatural forces beyond them forcing action. The requisite animal sidekick. You need only look at Ariel in The Little Mermaid or perhaps more accurately Mulan in Mulan to see the seeds that were sown to give rise to Moana.
Yet Moana stands apart from either of these princesses, even Merida from Disney and Pixar’s Brave doesn’t succeed in being what Moana is: a princess comfortable in her place despite her desires, who rises to meet the challenge set for her on her own. Talk about inspirational.
She’s going, and wants, to be the next chief
Unlike other princesses, Moana doesn’t marry into her throne. She’s the actual heir and more than that, it looks like even if she does marry later she won’t be giving up her title to husband. The entire opening song, “Where You Are”, is dedicated to the idea of Moana becoming the next chief. Her father even takes her to the top of the mountain where she’ll be placing the stone that marks the beginning of her reign in the future. At all times, the focus of power lies with Moana.
Most importantly, it’s a role that Moana wants. She wants to lead and take care of her village. She enjoys helping and guiding them. Yes, she wants to go out to sea, she wants to explore but it’s not a one or the other desire. She wants to do both, but shows that she willingly if wistfully chooses her village over her desire for adventure. She never shows any resentment for her lot the way Merida or Jasmine in Aladdin do, there’s no real attempts to rebel. Though granted, both are restricted in ways that Moana just isn’t. When Moana learns that her ancestors were voyagers, she doesn’t abandon her people. She wants them all to rediscover their heritage and sail away to save themselves from what’s plaguing Motunui. Suddenly she’s found a way to have both, though that was never a priority.
Many times heroes are dissatisfied with their lives and their whole story becomes about finding a way to overcome that. Moana shows us that you can love the life you have, that it is enough, and doesn’t need the validation of something more for you to be happy in it.
But if more comes along then don’t let it slip past you, because you deserve to have all that you dream of.
Resilient, Confident, Determined
Nervous she might be, but Moana doesn’t back down from a challenge. When her island is put at risk and the ocean itself chooses her to right the wrongs that caused it, she meets it head on. Others might try to dissuade her, convince her that she isn’t up to the task but Moana doesn’t let herself be talked down to. Even when Maui abandons her, all it takes is a pep talk from the spirit of her grandmother to remind her of who she is: Moana of Motunui, she who will restore the heart of Te Fiti and save her island.
Only when things look bleak does Moana waver, or in her dreams reveal the anxiety she feels over the task she has to complete. In all other moments she goes forth with a courage and confidence that is all the more admirable because of those small moments of doubt. All the more relatable because they are subtly peppered in throughout the narrative as to feel natural, the way a person might if they really were suddenly on an adventure on the open ocean with beings from legend.
It’s telling that the people who underestimate her are the male characters: her father and Maui. Neither think she is up to the task of being more than a princess with her animal sidekick. For her father it’s from a desire to keep her safe. From Maui it stems from an arrogant over belief in himself; after all if the demigod of the wind and sea wasn’t capable of getting past a lava monster, what chance does a girl who can’t even sail a boat have?
Despite their negativity, Moana is more confident in her ability to restore the heart of Te Fiti. After all the ocean chose her for the task, it wouldn’t have if she wasn’t capable. That belief isn’t an arrogant confidence in her abilities, it’s her faith in the forces at work. A faith that is only bolstered in turn by the faith the women in her life have in her. Her Grandma Tala is the first to believe in her ability to accomplish the task, and through her that Moana draws the strength to continue.
The other comes from her mother. Though Sina has less screen time than either Moana or Grandma Tala, when she does appear it is clear that she believes Moana is capable of more than Chief Tui wants to believe. When Moana is frantically gathering supplies to run out before she can be stopped, Sina is the one who catches her. Rather than hold her back, Sina shows her faith in her daughter by bundling up Moana’s supplies for her.
The strength and importance of the bond between women, between mothers and daughters, is a recurring theme in the movie. One that aids Moana in the final moments of her quest when even Maui is powerless, showing that women need only the strength inside themselves to achieve their goals.
There’s always something new to learn from Moana. Why do you love Moana? Let me know in the comments below!
Featured Image via Pinterest, https://www.pinterest.com/pin/637681628470349362/
I'm a writer based in California. I received my Bachelor's and Master's in Literature from San Francisco State University. I dream of one day writing books of my own and maybe even being part of a writer's room for a show! I love to talk about pop culture, books, and travel to anyone willing to listen. Some of my favorite topics in those categories are "Avatar the Last Airbender", "Gilmore Girls", the works of J.R.R. Tolkien, Mexico, and Paris. My favorite thing in the world though is my dog, he's just the cutest!