Disney’s ‘Moana’ presents a new empowering role model to young audiences

By Emily Cole

Staff Writer

A dynamic demigod, a playful pig, moving musical numbers. All of this and more can be found in Disney’s newest motion picture “Moana”, playing now. “Moana” tells the story of Moana, the daughter of the chief of a Polynesian tribe, voyaging the ocean in search of the demigod Maui to help save her people. On her journey she finds friends, fights foes, and works to discover her true identity.

Source: Disney

The title character, played by Auli’i Cravalho, is a strong-willed teenager living on the Polynesian island of Motunui with her pets Hei Hei the chicken and Pua the pig. Though she is destined to be the next chief of her tribe and live out her life on the island as her father wishes, she feels the ocean call to her and wishes to voyage.

When her island is in trouble, she sets out across the ocean to save her home and her people. Moana, however, is not some mundane character who is able to perform this unique task. She is both the daughter of the chief of her tribe and a girl who “has been chosen by the ocean.”

This is very common of Disney protagonists, in which every character is special in some way. This is one way that “Moana” is fairly typical and derivative Disney movie even though in many other aspects it shines above. That being said, her innate drive and ambition is what shines most, both as a character in the movie and as a Disney princess.

The Disney princesses, from Snow White to now Moana, serve as role models to children around the world, and Moana may be the best role model of them all. She is smart, outgoing, and passionate, and she does not focus on any love interest. Moana is the hero this movie, and the Disney princess franchise, needed, and she delivers.

The plot of “Moana” is unique in that there is no actual villain unlike almost every other Disney movie. Sure, there are obstacles and some not-so-nice folks, like the coconut pirates Kakamora or the crab god Tamatoa who give Moana and Maui struggle and peril, but there is no villain for the heroes to thwart.

The heroes are merely on a quest to right the wrongs of someone who meant well, and therefore the plot is able to focus inward on the development of both Moana and Maui. This makes the plot of “Moana” unique and refreshing for those who may be tired of the usual Disney format.

The music of the film is both its greatest asset and its greatest curse. Grammy winner Lin-Manuel Miranda is behind all of the original songs of the movie, and both the lyrics and the melodies are fantastic. However, they are also very predictable. The movie begins with the “establishing setting and character” song, followed by the “I want more than life has given me” song. There’s also of course the “kooky bad guy” song and the “magical sidekick introduction” song.

While every song in the movie is written well, they are also very predictable and it almost takes the viewer out of the movie experience. Luckily the beautiful voices of the characters, as well as the clever lyrics, bring the viewer right back in.

Artistically, “Moana” is breathtaking. The ocean, which is the main setting of the movie, looks practically like a real-life recording by how realistically it flowed and moved.

Both Moana and Maui’s hair move realistically––particularly Moana’s––whose curly hair often ended up wet, wild, and untamable rather than being magically perfect in the next shot.

While it does not transcend the Disney genre with its predictable heroine and musical numbers, “Moana” is a great movie that provides a unique plot, strong characters, and beautiful animation. When it comes to Disney movies, “Moana” ranks high on the charts.