By Julian Aguilar
People will find reasons to criticize “Moana,” Disney’s newest animated film.
They’ll say it was just a conventional hero’s journey feel-good story. They’ll say it was just “Frozen Sing-Along: Part Two.” They may say it was merely a tale of good-versus-evil.
But all that aside, it was Disney’s successful nod to diversity, a beautiful homage to Polynesian culture complemented by an empowering message of feminism.
Moana is a young girl from the South Pacific Island, Motunui. As much as she wants to take on the responsibilities of chief that she will soon inherit, she feels a calling for the dangerous ocean that lies beyond the reef her father forbids anyone to cross. As the island’s fertility slowly depletes, her father ignores her impending need to journey abroad and expand.
But with the subtle help of her grandmother in discovering the voyaging past of their people, Moana embarks on an adventure to find Maui, a pretentious demigod with a magical fish hook who has stolen the heart of Te Fiti (the source of Motunui’s predicament), to restore this heart and save the village.
The movie’s plot offers remarkable insight into the exploration and trial-and-error experiences of coming-of-age development. Beneath the movie’s surface of cheery songs and cute characters, there lies a deep reflection of human reaction to imminent obstacles and self-discovery, which many can relate to, children and adults alike.
Moana could very well be the new face of feminism. Disney breaks the stereotype of women being tied down to menial household tasks and instead places Moana in a position where she could be chief of her village. She’s a brave yet hesitant young girl trying to discover her identity while also giving a definitive voice to an ethnic minority.
The graphics of “Moana” are absolutely stunning. From the ocean’s horizon to the fine sand, “Moana” is representative of the rising technology in today’s animated industry. The animations are distinctive and are the perfect eye-candy for those looking for an adventure.
With Lin-Manuel Miranda and Mark Mancina at the forefront of “Moana’s” music, they do not disappoint. Both accurately capture Polynesian culture in all its undertones, lyrics, and chants. Miranda’s lyricism and Mancina’s orchestral scores will leave many Polynesians satisfied and those unaware of the culture entranced. “Moana’s” soundtrack itself tells an ethnic story that only the prowess of Miranda and Mancina could communicate.
But “Moana,” with all its moral and musical successes, has a few shortcomings of its own. Much like many of the hero’s journey story lines that have preceded it, the film becomes very predictable at times. It makes use of several trite plot devices that might induce some understandable eye-rolling or head-shaking. The movie itself acknowledges this at times, which only adds to the light-heartedness and humor of the film.
Overall, “Moana” successfully blends diversity, feminism, music, and graphics to produce a movie that conveys a powerful message: Societal barriers can be broken down with a strong sense of ambition and it can all start with a small dream.
“Moana” represents, within ourselves, both the giddy inner child anxious to break out and the mature adult that surfaces when we realize our true potential.