Moana, rated PG
It is rare that I’ll see a film after it’s been in the theatres for a few weeks. Usually I’ll see a film its opening weekend; Moana is an exception. I really had no interest in seeing the film when it first came out, even after seeing the previews. However, due to word of mouth from family and friends, strong positive reviews from critics and viewers, and a lack of other good options, I decided to check out the film that has now topped the box office all three weeks since its release, with an accumulated total of more than $145 million in ticket sales.
This animated film from Disney is funny, visually stunning, features excellent animation, has catchy songs (from Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda, as well as co-writers Mark Mancina and Opetaia Foa’i), good writing, and overall positive messages. There are also a few concerns which I’ll address later.
The film is directed by two-time Oscar nominee Ron Clements and Oscar nominee John Musker, with co-directors being Oscar winner Don Hall and Oscar winner Chris Williams. The screenplay is by Jared Bush, who also wrote Zootopia, one of my favorite films of the year. The film had a budget of approximately $150 million.
We first meet the young Moana (Auli’i Cravalho), the only daughter of Chief Tu (Temuera Morrison), as a toddler, living with her family on a peaceful Polynesian island about 2,000 years ago. (“Moana” is the Polynesian word for ocean or sea. It is also a common Polynesian word for the color blue.). As she hears stories being told by her Gramma Tala (Rachel House), Moana is immediately captivated, while we see other toddlers cry.
The film begins with “in the beginning”, but it’s not the “In the beginning” that we would know from Genesis 1. In this beginning the earth was all water until Te Fiti, a beautiful island rose up. At the heart of the island was a stone that was believed to give the ability to create life. However, one day a demigod name Maui (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson) stole the stone. As he does so, Te Ka, a giant, evil lava monster (who could be scary for young viewers), confronts Maui and he loses the stone and his magical hook. The hook allows him to transform himself into a large hawk, as well as other animals.
Even at a young age Moana feels called to the ocean though her father prohibits it; she is never to go beyond the reef. She later finds out more about her people’s background which explains why she’s so drawn to the sea. Her grandmother tells Moana, who is preparing to one day be the leader of her people, that unless someone can return the stone to the heart of Te Fiti, their island will be destroyed. We hear that the fishermen can no longer find fish around the island and we see diseased coconuts. Something must be done. Gramma tells Moana that the ocean has chosen Moana to be the one to save her people. So, Moana, along with a hilarious chicken, sets out beyond the reef to enlist the demigod Maui to save her people.
When Moana is shipwrecked on an island, it turns out to be the island where Maui is living. And he is very full of himself with tattoos covering his body that he talks to, and they respond back. (Although this is a computer animated film, Maui’s tattoos are actually hand-drawn animation). Maui thinks everyone should be grateful for and to him, for all he has done as a demigod. He evens signs an autograph for Moana on her oar. Although he initially refuses to go with Moana, and he certainly doesn’t want to face Te Ka again, he eventually reluctantly agrees.
Moana shows courage as she seeks to save her people and their island. As they begin their journey Maui several times tries to throw Moana into the ocean, only to have the ocean, which is a living character in this film, put her right back on the boat. On their way to the lava monster, they have to recover Maui’s magical hook from Tamatoa (Jemaine Clement), a crab living well under the ocean’s surface.
The film is based on stories from Polynesian mythology. We hear of demigods, reincarnation and see Moana speaking to a spirit. The film is fun to watch and the songs are catchy. It will also give Christian parents an opportunity to compare this fictional story with the Biblical story of creation and the true savior.