MESSAGE IN THE MOVIES
Photo: Walt Disney Pictures
Directed by Ron Clements, John Musker, Don Hall, Chris Williams. Animated Feature.
If I told you to go and watch a cartoon movie because it was good for you, would you follow my advice?
Moana is a film that really is good for you, because it is comfort food of the best kind, warming the spirit while also being nutritious, loaded with beautiful animation, catchy songs, an empowered female hero and a new mythological world to explore. It’s family friendly and easy for young children to enjoy as a viewing experience, with enough of an earth-friendly message to give families something to talk about.
This particular story takes place in a storybook Polynesia from the past (with the kind of anachronistic wisecracks you’d expect from the directors of Aladdin). But this is a world that most of us are unfamiliar with, filled with demigods and an earth goddess. Young Moana (voiced by Auli’i Cravalho) is the daughter of an island chief (Temuera Morrison) whose way of life is challenged by failing crops and unsuccessful fishing expeditions. This season of infertility is connected to a foolish act of the demigod Maui (Dwayne Johnson) who once stole the heart of the goddess Te Fiti. The only way to heal the island is to persuade Maui to return Te Fiti's heart, so Moana sets off on an epic journey across the Pacific, accompanied by Hei Hei (Alan Tudyk), her pet rooster.
Moana has many of the qualities of a Disney princess story (treated in a self-aware fashion by the script) but this princess not only gets by very well without a prince (the movie passes the Bechtel Test) but deals with both feminine and masculine gods (the guys are the vainest) in a mature fashion. When one particular group of foes is depicted in silly fashion, Moana calls them out; she is the smartest person in the room. And (mild spoiler) – surprise! – Moana is the daughter of two parents. That’s right. We have a Disney character who isn’t a part of a single parent family (not that’s there anything wrong with that).
The story is simple and takes its time to tell its tale. There is always something lovely on the screen to catch your eye, a tune to delight your ear, or a joke to tickle your funny bone. The songs are by Lin Manuel Miranda (the composer of Hamilton), Mark Mancina, and Opetaia Foa’I, a Samoan musician. Auli’i Cravalho is a real discovery as Moana. She is still a teenager but not only proves to be a great voice actor but also a powerful singer who can really belt out the power anthem “How Far I’ll Go” with enough conviction to make it a memorable song. Whether or not it becomes as big a hit as Frozen’s “Let It Go” will depend on the number of times your little princess replays the Blu-Ray Disc a few months from now.
Moana’s quest also demonstrates how God can use a human being to restore order out of chaos. All it takes is perseverance, an act of forgiveness, and the desire to restore the heart of nature to its rightful place. There are times it seems as if we are a world of self-centered fools who abuse the earth and its resources and resist every opportunity to repent of our sins. Moana is bold and optimistic about the possibilities of choosing another way. We all need to embrace its point of view and then follow God’s call to become heroic in our faith. We have a savior, after all. After we are saved, let’s get busy saving this planet and one another.
Four halos: An imaginative quest for identity and purpose is also a family-friendly allegory about stewardship of the world.
One pitchfork: A couple of mild toilet jokes; the monsters may scare the youngest of children.
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Rev. Bruce Batchelor-Glader
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