By John Liu
Northwest Asian Weekly
Moana is the first Disney film to depict Polynesian culture, and activists had been voicing their concerns for months that the movie would be an inaccurate portrayal of their culture. Activists pointed out that the demigod Maui, voiced by Dwayne Johnson, reinforced a negative stereotype that Pacific Islanders were overweight. Even before the first trailers were released, Disney spent years researching the Polynesian culture. They visited the South Pacific Islands multiple times from 2011-2014 and formed the Oceanic Story Trust, a South Pacific Island consulting group, to ensure every single detail was as accurate as possible, and their way of life was not misrepresented. This involved character design, music, mannerisms, and dancing.
In the opening scene, we see the Polynesian tribe gathering coconuts, basket weaving, etching tattoos, and learning to dance. After watching Moana, I had a new appreciation for Polynesian culture and their way of life. Although Maui was stocky, he demonstrated strength and agility throughout the movie. I did not see any blatant stereotypes or jokes about eating or being overweight. For 3D lovers, you are in for quite a treat. Lush landscapes get a whole new dimension. Disney Animation Studios has been very consistent with its 3D effects. The ocean’s water effect was very realistic. Many times, I ended up staring at the water in the background instead of watching the film.
Unfortunately, I ended up with a headache afterwards.
The story begins where we learn Te Fiti, a mythical goddess, created all life on all islands.
After Te Fiti’s heart was stolen by Maui, darkness spread across the islands. Thousands of years later on the island of Motunui, the chief prepares his daughter, Moana, to be the next ruler. But Moana’s heart is set on sailing and exploring the ocean. One day, the darkness reaches Motunui and we learn Moana was chosen to return Te Fiti’s heart.
Moana begins her journey to find Maui and seek his help to return the heart to Te Fiti.
Lin Manuel Miranda, creator of the hit musical Hamilton, sang and wrote some of the spectacular music in Moana. I always look forward to the next featured song that tries to top Frozen’s “Let It Go.” In Moana, we have Alessia Cara singing, “How Far I’ll Go,” which is great but not quite as catchy as “Let It Go.” Although there were a number of great songs, you’ll wonder if you are dreaming when you hear Maui sing “You’re Welcome.” Dwayne Johnson is singing? Yes he is, and it’s great!
Throughout the movie, there is repeated emphasis that Moana is not a princess. Other than the love of family, there’s no love interest for Moana. There’s one particular scene where Maui tells Moana to stay behind, and he begins the journey without her. Not one to wait around, Moana easily keeps pace with Maui and explains that she was chosen by the ocean, but not by her tribe. The princess without a prince trend was started in 2012 and has continued in the latest Disney movies, as there has been backlash that Disney princesses did not make good role models for children.
My only complaints are there were too many Heihei, the chicken, and Maui’s tattoos scenes. However, I’m sure those scenes may have been a hit with the kids. I was hoping the adorable pig Pua would get more screen time. Moana crushed the box office during Thanksgiving weekend, raking in $81.1 million. Don’t miss Moana playing in theaters right now.
John can be reached at email@example.com.