Finally, Disney gives us a princess that truly breaks the mold. They tried with Merida from “Brave,” but didn’t quite succeed. “Moana” not only accurately portrays Polynesian culture but Moana herself grabs onto life and is determined to learn all it has to offer.
Moana (voiced by Hawaiian actress Auli’I Cravalho) is the daughter of the chief but doesn’t really consider herself a princess. Disney pokes a little fun at itself when they have the demigod Maui (Dwayne Johnson) tell her, “You wear a dress and have an animal sidekick. You’re a princess.” She’s set to take over from her father to govern their island home of Motunui. Their motto: never go beyond the reef. It’s too dangerous.
Moana’s Gramma Tala (Rachel House) tells her and the other children the stories of Maui, who, with his magic fishhook, raised the islands out of the ocean. He was jealous of the creator ocean goddess Te Fiti and stole the stone which represented her heart bringing darkness to the islands. In a very charming scene, toddler Moana is chosen by the ocean itself to receive the lost stone heart.
When Moana is 16, the island experiences a food shortage. Things won’t grow anymore and the lagoons inside the reef have no more fish. The darkness unleashed by Maui has reached Motunui. Always drawn to the ocean, Moana proposes that they fish beyond the reef. Moana’s father, Chief Tui (Temuera Morrison) forbids it but Gramma Tala, now very sick, tells Moana that it’s time to go. She tells Moana about how their ancestors came to Motunui across the seas. They were wayfarers, navigating by the stars. Their boats have been hidden in a cave on Motunui for many years. Gramma Tala believes Moana has been chosen by the ocean to find Maui and make him return the heart of Te Fiti thus defeating the darkness.
Moana sets out and finds Maui, an egotistical demigod who can no longer shape-shift since he’s lost his hook. If they are going to return the heart, they need to find the hook. Moana refuses to be impressed by Maui’s ego and holds her own when they run into some trouble from –wait for it—evil coconuts (Mad Max: Fury Road style) and Tamatoa (Jemaine Clement), a big, creepy crab who loves shiny things. Once Maui gets his hook back, he can’t properly shape-shift since he’s so out of practice. Dwayne Johnson as Maui provides lots of laughs and sarcasm as they voyage.
“Moana” is all about the journey and discovering who you truly are. It’s not an original Disney idea, but “Moana” makes it fresh again. What I really enjoyed about the film was the way Moana learned from all her experiences. She learned loyalty from her family and fellow villagers as they worked together to survive. She listened and learned the stories of their ancestors from Gramma Tala and she didn’t dismiss them as the ramblings of a crazy, old lady. She knew she really didn’t know how to sail so she wisely learned the wayfaring ways from Maui. Every experience on their journey added to Moana’s ability to discover her own heart, who she was as a person and who she was called to be as a future leader of her people. Her experiences enabled her to inspire her own people to rise above their fears, remember the past, and move forward in hope.