Her name suggests Disney’s newest princess is one with the waters of the world.
In Maori or Hawaiian culture, Moana means “ocean”, “wide expanse of water” and/or “deep sea.” Thus, it makes sense that Moana‘s titular character, the daughter of a chief from the fictional Polynesian island of Motunui, wants nothing more than to explore beyond the immediate islands of her homeland. Directed by Ron Clements and John Musker, Disney’s latest animation is a lesson in anti-isolationism wrapped up in the audience-cozy blanket of this girl’s underdog triumph.
Moana’s father, Chief Tui Waialiki of Motunui Island, continually warns his heiress not to explore beyond the waters of her island due to the dangers of the unknown. When the island’s resources begin to systematically diminish in plague-like fashion, Moana goes against her father’s advice and ventures into her namesake’s tumultuous, unforgiving world to save her homeland with nothing other than an unintelligent rooster as a sidekick.
The film has all the elements of the Disney recipe for success and accordingly comes through as a surefire hit. Diversity is attempted, though controversially as several characters are voiced by white actors, through the inclusion of Disney’s first animated Polynesian princess (Moana herself is voiced by Hawaii native Auli’i Cravalho). Impossible-to-dislike characters such as Moana’s grandmother, her two best friends (a pig and the aforementioned rooster) and the water itself (personified in the form of a goofy and powerful ally to the princess) keep smiles on the faces of children and their accompanying parents.
Another powerful ally is Maui, voiced by America’s sweetheart and Sexiest Man Alive Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.
A demigod with an ego as large as his massive pectorals, Maui is the film’s most complex character. Fueled by hubris and a desire for admiration, Maui’s own mistake, made ages before Moana’s own birth, is the reason for Motunui’s troubles. However, Moana cannot save her island without Maui’s assistance, as the stubborn demigod must return an item he stole that caused Motunui’s famine. Through empathy and relentless coaxing and encouragement, the pint-sized princess must turn the holy pain-in-the-ass into her divine ally.
With The Rock in a starring role, Moana‘s 113-minute runtime could have been filled with nothing other than animated bicep and abdominal flexing and still have found box office success. Coupled with the fact that Hamilton creator and national sensation Lin-Manuel Miranda doubles as one of the film’s songwriters, Moana’s plot could’ve been nothing more than a literal blank screen and crowds would’ve flocked to theaters.
Regardless, the film goes above and beyond in terms of delivering a guised message to its younger audience. Through its titular character’s ultimately successful ventures into unfamiliar territory, Moana reiterates that the only thing to fear is fear itself.