Wave hello to “Moana”


Walt Disney Animation Studios

Screenshot from the “Moana” official trailer.

In this new family-friendly adventure, Disney follows 16-year-old Moana Waialiki (Auli’i Cravalho), an inhabitant of Motunui (a small Polynesian island) and the daughter of Chief Tui Waialiki (Temuera Morrison). The main plot centers around the growing endangerment of Motunui and it’s people (due to circumstances later revealed) and Moana’s efforts to save them.

Moana’s quest also entails the help of demigod Maui (Dwayne Johnson) and her pet rooster Heihei (Alan Tudyk). Although teamwork is involved, there are times when Moana must face formidable circumstances by herself. Her fortified confidence is nothing new to the Disney movie pattern, however, Disney has perfected their character by a couple key features.

In the forefront, there is no love interest whatsoever in “Moana”, the movie focuses solely on her adventures and self-discovery making her more of a heroine than a princess. As well, since Disney has been previously criticized for creating unrealistic body standards for girls, Moana has a strong physique that makes it believable that she can sail, climb and fight as a 16-year-old Pacific Islander.

In fact, besides early controversies of appropriation, Moana has been praised for its showcase of Polynesian culture. This is due in part to an “Oceanic Story Trust”, a panel of Pacific Islander experts that helped directors Ron Clements and John Musker bring “Moana” to life.

Clements and Musker have worked together on Disney hits such as “The Little Mermaid” and “Aladdin”, so they are not new to the Disney formula. With that, they’ve created “Moana” in such a way that is vibrant and new to any audience. In result of their attention to detail, and corrections to most historical or cultural inaccuracies through the Oceanic Story Trust, “Moana” seems far beyond their previous films.

This emphasis on authenticity was also seen in the casting, as almost all of the main roles went to actors with some heritage in the Pacific Islands. In addition, the music used was written by “Hamilton” star Lin-Manuel Miranda, “Te Vaka” (an Oceanic music group) member Opetaia Foa’i and seasoned Disney composer Mark Mancina.

“Moana” feels as if it’s best Disney “princess” movie to date because it reflects how we see the world today. Nowadays, cultural representation is at the front of every story we see and vital to understanding a diverse society. As well in our world, girls can be whatever they want and they don’t have to compromise their multiple interests.

Ultimately, “Moana” stands as a film people of all ages can learn from, even if that lesson is in the usual Disney medium of song.