Moana’s Progressiveness Results in Magic


Moana (Auli’I Cravalho) helps Maui (Dwayne Johnson) reunite with his magical weapon from the gods: a giant fishhook that allows him to shape-shift.

Moana is story of a young pacific islander woman who yearns. While understanding her rightful duty to one day lead and guide her people given that she the chief’s daughter, the possibility of what lies beyond her island across the great wavy sapphire expansion drives Moana’s (Auli’I Cravalho) curiosity on a daily basis. When her homeland becomes sickly for unexplained reasons, Moana’s grandmother not-so-subtly nudges her to answer the call of the ocean and become the explorer she knows she is in her heart.

Moana believes in the legend of Maui and Te Fiti. Long ago the demigod Maui (Dwayne Johnson) stole Te Fiti’s, the goddess of creation, heart believing it would help humans grow and expand their power. Instead, Maui’s actions led to him losing his magical weapon (a giant bone fishhook which allows him to shapeshift), and accidentally set off a chain reaction that is poisoning the land and sea. Now Moana must convince Maui to make things right by returning Te Fiti’s heart, which involves adventuring across the ocean to reach her.


What works in Moana are the visuals, the characters, the music, and the messages. To call Moana stunning and breathtaking is almost a disservice the wondrous beauty of the animation. Moana is lush and vibrant in every sequence, and a pure delight to behold. But what makes this backdrop even more enjoyable is the way the main duo of Moana and Maui interact with it. If these were living people, you’d hear praise like “these actors are having just a great time” with their performances. Moana and Maui are fun, interesting, and passionate characters, and it’s impossible not to love their enthusiasm. Both are flawed with unflappably stubborn natures, but that only makes them more endearing and relatable, along with lending credence to why the pair have great chemistry.

While the songs in Moana are unlikely to become iconic like some of those found in its animated predecessors, they are still incredibly enjoyable and will result in tapping toes and grinning smiles from audience members. Johnson’s big ego-driven number (You’re Welcome) in particular is a great way to introduce Maui’s larger-than-life personality mix: one-part naivety, one-part over-confidence, four parts heart. But perhaps the most important component of Moana are the themes. Disney has impressively gone out of its way (even to the point of including specific dialogue as reinforcement) that this is not a “princess movie,” but rather an important story of what it means to be an empowered young woman who has conflicting feelings about one’s path when duty and purpose are seemingly at odds. Moana is a movie young women need and deserve, and don’t let Johnson’s inclusion in the film fool you—Moana is unequivocally the star and hero.

While Moana is nearly perfect as a both of piece of entertainment and an inspiring tale of self-discovery, there are a few elements that may not please all audiences. First, given the bright colors and music, some may think that this is a tale for all ages, so know that Moana is rated PG and younger viewers may find some of the monsters and peril a bit too scary for them. Second, if one were to be very nitpicky, a question could be raised as to how and why one particular character appears to flip-flop on their intentions very randomly and conveniently, but again, just rolling with the story works too.

Moana is fantastic edition to the Disney library and the way it draws its characters should be taken as a sign of hope that the animation team has found a way to keep the joy and wonder that has captivated audiences for generations while making significant progress in the way it portrays women and people of color.

Grade: A

Photos courtesy of Disney

Updated: December 6, 2016 — 12:09 pm