Moana. Another Disney movie that people probably underestimated. Yes, I’ll admit I had my doubts about it when I first saw the previews. It’s always a big deal when Disney decides to make a movie starring people of color. Sure, you probably rolled your eyes just now and thought, “But there’s a black Disney princess now.” Yes. There. Is. And she only spent 20 or so minutes as a human before she was turned into a frog. Imagine my disappointment. You could choke on it.
After all of that fuckery with Princess and the Frog, I was expecting Disney to pull some similar bullshit with Moana when I took my little black ass to see it in theaters. I was not disappointed. It far exceeded my expectations. I cried like a little bitch at least three times. The timing of the film? Perfect. The characters? Hilarious, dynamic, round. The music? Fabulous, though there should never be any doubt that a Disney movie will have an excellent soundtrack given the huge investment that Disney makes in its musicians and composers.
Now, I have seen it at least 20 times and notice new details every time I watch it. One thing that I appreciate about Moana is that it is about friendship and family and there is no love story at all. Usually, I’d be rather pissy if I saw a Disney movie that had no love story, but the fullness of this storyline forced me to love it the way it was. I was pointing out to my sister the other day, due to the way Maui relates his backstory of being abandoned by his parents and forever after doing a bunch of shit to earn the affection of some ungrateful ass humans, Maui has never had a real friend before. He interacts with the little tattooed version of himself on his own chest. Yes, I know he’s also been stranded on an island for 1,000 years before Moana shows up to help him save the world, but he has never felt wanted or loved by humans before. It was heartwarming to watch the progression of his friendship with Moana as he grew to respect her as a person, a friend, a sailor, and a heroine.
Another thing that totally turned me into a puddle of tears was the moment that Moana’s mother caught Moana about to run away to go find Maui. Moana’s mother is the one who reveals Moana’s father’s reasons for being so adamant that Moana never go past the reef. During that conversation, she becomes the mouthpiece for a husband who, apparently is incapable of explaining why Moana’s wanting to sail makes him so angry. Even still, Moana’s mother tells the story of how her husband lost his best friend when they went beyond the reef to drowning. There is no judgement in her tone and it is hard to say whether she is supporting Moana’s free spirited ways or whether she thinks her daughter should just do as her father says. With all of this build up, the moment Moana’s mother discovers Moana packing to run off, we see her make a decision to help her daughter and support her dream and her destiny. Though we get no back story on Moana’s mother, there is the vibe that she essentially acts as a support system for the family and a buffer between Moana and her father, who are both headstrong and stubborn. Watching Moana and her father interact looks kind of like watching two dry rocks rub together. Nothing but friction and fire.
Moana’s mother’s actions say to me that you should chase your dreams despite all of the resistance, even when it is your own family that is resisting you, more specifically in this movie, Moana’s father, who, when you really think about it, is only against Moana going past the reef because he doesn’t want her to die. I think that might almost be a legitimate excuse for being an obnoxiously overbearing and controlling parent. “You are my daughter. I don’t want you to drown to death,” would’ve been a much better way of keeping her under this thumb though. Just saying. I can’t end this post without talking about how fucking fabulous Moana’s grandmother is. If Moana’s mother is a buffer/ally to Moana and her father, then Moana’s grandmother is an antagonist to her son (Moana’s father) and a true ally to Moana. Labeling herself the “village crazy lady”, we learn that she is the only one willing to tell Moana the real truth about the ancestors of their people. That history is entwined with Moana’s own desire to sail the open seas and her destiny to make the waters safe to sail again to bring voyaging back to her people by returning the heart of Te Fiti.
To continue on, one of the biggest things about this movie is that it’s also about finding your true self. Maui, our lava monster/angered goddess Te Fiti, Moana, and Moana’s father all find themselves by the end of this movie. Moana answers the call of the ocean and becomes a sailor. Maui learns that he’s still a badass demi-god with or without his magical fish hook. Moana’s father conquerors his fear of the ocean and learns to sail from his daughter thereby embracing the history of his ancestors. The angry, lava monster has her heart returned, can finally rest again, and brings health and good cheer back to the oceans and lands, and, also, I suppose, lays down for a VERY long nap, as I’m pretty sure she’s been pissed, awake, and trying to murder Maui since he stole the heart of Te Fiti 1,000 years ago, so…she’s long overdue for some rest.
But let’s not stop there. Let’s talk about some of the darker aspects of this film. Maui was literally trapped on an island sans food (from what I could gather by the severe lack of trees on the sandy island) for 1,00o years, which is essentially solitary confinement and torture by starvation, made a little more sinister since Maui is clearly an immortal. I vaguely remember some stories from brief mythology studies about torture in the Underworld where, because the dead cannot die again, the suffering was long lasting. So, despite Maui’s reasons for turning to thievery, he probably deserved punishment. While I think it would’ve been really interesting to lengthen the movie by adding scenes of Maui’s declining mental health into insanity, that would probably not be appropriate for a movie marketed to children.
By the end of the film, we learn that Te Fiti and Te Ka are two sides of the same goddess, a Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde situation, if you will. Maui’s thievery literally turns Te Fiti into the heartless monster, Ta Ka, who is a symbol of mindless, angry destruction. This is the very opposite of what Te Fiti represents, who is covered in moss and flowers as a goddess of creation. Given the glowing of the Heart of Te Fiti, I have concluded that it is a symbol of light, life, and goodness and without this, Te Fiti is devoid of light, and becomes a creature of darkness and “evil”. Though, I’m a little hesitant to call Te Ka evil, for the purposes of this film, that’s the simplest description of what she is. She is painted as a monster who spreads sickness to the islands to destroy the crops, puts monsters into the seas to scare away the fish, and destroys everything she can reach from her dry little island of fire and earth. Te Ka has every right to be angry given that she has been thrown out of balance by having her heart ripped away. Though she is blamed for the dying of the Earth, I have further concluded that the heart is the source of her power and without it, she loses the power of creation. The loss of that power means that she cannot create life and keep the islands healthy. The absence of life, is death.
Since Te Fiti has (in the simplest words) disappeared from the world, she is not around to create anything. Again, Maui’s fault because he stole the heart. Te Ka is also a representation of depression. All light and goodness has been stolen from her as she has made the change to a goddess of greenery and lushness, to a reaper of death and destruction. In the form of Te Ka, she is trapped on an island prison of her own, unable to go into the sea to retrieve the heart that has been stolen from her. If you don’t know by now, “Water is life”. Te Ka represents spiritual and physical death, the opposite of water. This symbolism is underlined in the final resolution when Moana figures out who Te Ka really is and tells the ocean to part to allow her to reunite with her heart (which Moana is holding).
There is also room to explore, given that the ocean is a living entity with its own thoughts and feelings, that the ocean deliberately trapped Te Ka on that island to protect the rest of the world from Te Ka’s poison. I know I said earlier that the death of the world could simply be an absence of life, but it could also be that Te Ka was also spreading her anger and sadness to the world via poison/death. I had to ask myself, why the hell couldn’t the ocean part to just let Te Ka go get the heart herself? So, I’m thinking that Te Ka did not have that power/ability. Maybe that is the vulnerability she is cursed with as a goddess to keep balance in the world, so that she is not “all powerful”. In these circumstances, the ocean has been waiting a long ass time to find the perfect person to not only bring back to sailing to the Polynesian people but to also give the heart back to Te Fiti.
I also find it slightly amusing that Maui, a demi-god stole from a god(dess) to win the love of humans…the ones who threw him away in the first place. It’s kind of a “bite the hand who fed you” situation though it is doubtful that Te Fiti was the goddess that saved Maui from the sea.
Well, those are the end of my thoughts for now. I’ll be pretty likely to update as I’ll definitely be watching this movie again. 🙂