Moana photo
Photo by D. Tempesta

In short, Moana is without question one of my favorite Disney movies. And I have seen a lot of Disney movies. I would argue that it is one of the best Disney movies ever made. But let’s be more thorough about what makes Moana so great. And, in the interest of staying on topic, I have decided to use a list to keep myself from getting distracted, as I am prone to do with movies I like so much. You’re welcome (heh).

First, the music is incredible. But it is not the music of a typical Disney film, which is best because Moana itself is not a typical Disney film. Disney was intentional about maintaining the authenticity of the music in Moana, and the company went through great lengths to do so. I know very little of Polynesian culture, but from what I could find, much of the soundtrack of Moana was an accurate representation of that culture’s music. That’s awesome to me. Disney would have made money off the movie regardless, but they took the time and had the respect to strive to accurately represent the culture they were showcasing. Perhaps my favorite aspect of the music (other than Auli’i Cravalho being remarkable, obviously) was the unpredictability of it. Sure there were rhyme schemes and repeated portions of songs, but those were quite limited. The best way I can think to explain it is to say that the songs felt like they told their own stories rather than being expositional pieces with repeated choruses. The music alone was enough to capture me immediately.

Second, there is neither a love interest nor a villain in Moana. I said it. There is a Disney movie with neither a love interest nor a villain. And what’s more is that Moana herself isn’t even a princess (despite the animal sidekick). This is entirely unfamiliar territory for Disney. However, they executed this vision wonderfully. I believe much of the success of the film Moana can be attributed to the successful character of Moana. With there being no romance or villain, Moana is free to be the only main character of the story. Hanging the success of your movie on such a pass or fail strategy is quite risky, but Moana is exactly the type of character that can make it work. She is powerful, inspiring, and independent. But it doesn’t stop there; she is very dynamic. We see her sheepishly apologize to her dad for trying to sail for the millionth time and we also see her defiantly stare down a demigod and demand that he fulfills her requests. Relying on one character to carry an entire movie can be risky, but relying on a character as well made as Moana feels like a safe bet.

Third, I believe movies, songs, poems, and books are at their best when they are either relatable or teach us something about ourselves/life, double points if they are both. Moana wrestles with one of the most relatable stories to exist, the journey of self-discovery. It doesn’t matter who you are, what language you speak, or which earth you are from, we have all gone through the struggle of trying to find who we are at least once. I’m pretty sure I went through it twice just this year. Seeing a character like Moana struggle with the same issues that we do is comforting. She even goes so far as to return the heart of Te Fiti to the ocean, completely losing faith in herself. But her story doesn’t end there. After a beautiful scene with her grandmother, Moana rediscovers who she is with renewed certainty and drive. She fearlessly retrieves the heart and faces Te Fiti alone, knowing without a doubt that is her purpose. This sequence served as a great reminder that it is normal to doubt yourself, but it also inspired us to find that same self-assurance Moana did when she so powerfully declared who she was on that boat. I was excited to see how universal the story of Moana is and was even more impressed Disney was able to pull this off with such a culturally specific movie.

My name is Chuck, and these are my thoughts. Now I would like to know what you think. What did you think about the different direction that Disney took with this movie? How do you feel about the character of Moana? Most importantly, what about Heihei? Leave a comment down below, and we’ll talk. Enjoy the day!

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