Disney’s latest musical princess movie Moana, currently available on DVD and Netflix streaming, does suffer from a typical Disney problem but nonetheless provides some solid themes and good fun. Here’s our review for Catholic families.
by Adrienne Thorne
Often, when a big new animated movie comes out on DVD, we rent it from Redbox and watch it together with our 3 year old for a little family movie night. But for some reason, despite the hype surrounding Disney’s Moana, we never got around to seeing it.
Now, it’s actually streaming on Netflix already, so we gave it a watch.
My preconceived notions
I didn’t know a lot about the movie or its story, except for what I had read in this article, “We Need to Talk About Cartoon Parents,” which discusses the movie’s junior-knows-best-syndrome: Moana has radically different ideas from her father and ends up saving the day by disobeying him.
So when you put it like that, why would we even want to watch this movie? Or let our kids watch it?
Well, after seeing the movie, I think reducing it to its one fault is actually pretty shortsighted.
Moana is a Polynesian chieftain’s daughter. She has a deep thirst for adventure and some kind of magical affinity with the ocean. When their island’s main crop of coconuts starts to fail, at the same time as their fishing crop starts to deplete, the adventurous Moana suggests that they solve their problems by venturing out beyond the reef to fish. Her father says no, that it’s “too dangerous” out there.
There’s also some kind of confusing details about some heart that was once stolen by demigod Maui, which must be restored in order for things to be okay for everyone again. All we really need to know is that someone must set off on a quest to fix things. And Moana steps up to the plate.
Yes, she is disobeying her father, who specifically tells her not to venture out on the ocean. And it is this disobedience that eventually saves the day.
Is this sending our kids the wrong message? I mean, kind of. But on the one hand, she’s not a little kid. Her age is never really discussed, but she seems to be at least in her mid-teens. No, that doesn’t make it exactly better, but that does make this more a coming-of-age story; so, the focus is definitely more on her finding who she is and coming into her own than on the conflict with her father.
And it’s this coming into her own, the true essence of the story, that give the story meaning.
Pro-woman, in a good way
I don’t have daughters yet, but if I did I think I’d want them to watch this movie.
Moana is strong, and yet she is afraid. She wants to appear strong but keeps tripping up and looking silly in front of this buff awesome demigod Maui (and no, there is thankfully no awkward love story between them…). She stays steadfast to her goal as she faces obstacle after obstacle, until all is apparently lost and she tells her “friend” the ocean, “You chose the wrong person!” It made me want to cry, because I know that feeling. And ultimately, she overcomes it.
And then, in this same vein, when Moana is facing the final villain-monster, Moana realizes that the monster is actually the entity whose heart Maui stole. And there’s this little song, as she realizes it, about how this is not who “Te Fiti” (the monster) is. Te Fiti is actually a girl (or a goddess really), and having her heart stolen turned her into this monster.
Perhaps I’m reading too much into it, but even my husband commented on how it seems like a parallel to women in our modern world, who may turn into something other than what they’re meant to be when their feminine hearts are “stolen” by others. And, when this monster gets her heart back (sorry, spoiler, but I mean it was only obvious there’d be a happy ending…), she goes back to being her feminine, even motherly, self.
And the fun…
It’s not all deep and meaningful stuff. There are plenty of light, fun moments as well.
There’s an awkward chicken sidekick, there are jokes that poke fun at typical Disney tropes, and there’s a super funny song that a giant crab bad guy sings. Everything else aside, this is a pretty entertaining movie to watch.
The other issues
Apart from the disobedience thing, there are some scary monster sequences that could be too much for some kids. Also, there’s the whole mythology thing where they reference gods and goddesses, which could be confusing for some little Catholics.
But on the whole…
It’s a pretty good movie, with a strong heroine and ultimately a good message. While it’s true that the act of disobedience does help save the day, I definitely feel that the good messages are more prominent and make it a worthwhile watch.
Adrienne Thorne blogs at Thorne in the Flesh: A Faithful Catholic’s Guide to Netflix, Hulu, and More.