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Moana, pronounced- Ma-Wan-Nah, is a young woman gearing up to take her father’s place as chief of her island of Montunui. She yearns to leave the island and explore pass the reef, but her father is against it, stating that it is too dangerous. As this is a Disney movie, of course a chance presents itself for Moana to leave, but unlike normal formulaic kids movies, we spend quite a bit of time on the island itself. The adventures on the sea are fun, but directors Ron and John really focus on the home life of the Polynesian islanders from around two to three thousand years ago (when the film takes place). The location is not an actual place, but is compiled of many influences from different islands that the directors visited. Moana allows us to feel the essence of the people of Montunui as they hunt, educate their young ones, dance and celebrate their culture. Moana herself is not being promised or forced into a marriage. She seems to be happy in understanding that she will be chief one day, and no one finds it odd that a young girl is promised the role of future leader. This film is about as girl-power as you can get, but not in an overt way. In our world, their norm is kind of progressive. That in and of itself was intriguing. They lull you in to a comfortable spot…and then the story begins.

Long before Moana takes place, there were many tales of the demi-god Maui. Some saw him as a trickster, inciting arguments and dismay. Others found him to be a savior, as many gods and demi-gods are portrayed throughout the world. This particular film paints Maui as a sort of mixture of the two. A God who wanted the admiration of the mortals so much that he stole the heart of the island Goddess, Te Fiti. It is said that this would give mortals the ability to create life. When he lost her heart in the ocean, all of the islands throughout the world (or at least in Polynesia) started to die off.

Our story begins 1,000 years later- with crystal clear waters, sandy beaches, and catchy tunes by none other than Lin-Manuel Miranda (creator of Hamilton). All of these things add to the magic island of Montunui. The setting is truly magnificent and tranquil but what makes this film shine is the character Moana herself. Voiced by newcomer Auliʻi Cravalho, Moana is the kind of “shero” that children deserve- a young woman who doesn’t just “happen” to find a suitor as she performs the impossible. Instead she is a young woman who is brave, selfish and selfless, naïve, flawed and imperfect with good intentions. Moana is, simply put, a human being with a warrior’s heart.

When Montunui begins to die, she knows it is she who must get Maui to return the heart. Thus our adventure begins. Maui (voiced by Dwayne Johnson) is a master at antagonizing Moana but proves to be a fantastic partner in crime as they brave the unforgiving ocean (which is actually very much a charter of its own in the film) and attempt to return the heart. Johnson does a wonderful job of playing the boastful Maui. An added touch to the film is the fact that Maui’s tattoos are moving and telling visual stories on their own, acting as a sort of subconscious. In some ways, it reminded me of moving photos in Harry Potter. I can imagine the animators had fun with him.

Even though it is “just” a kid’s movie, Moana succeeds where a lot of live action adult films seem to fall apart, and that is having a flawed protagonist who shows character growth in two hour period. This makes for a complete narrative, allowing the audience to live it from start to finish. Children and adults alike will thoroughly have fun watching Moana as it is a tale for those who need their princesses to do more and be more.

Moana is streaming now on the following services:
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