Moana, by Albert W. Vogt III

My brother-in-law has a hilarious penchant for singing tunes.  He is not a gifted vocalist, but that is part of the fun.  When he hits the high notes in certain ballads, he screeches somewhat like a teenager going through puberty.  My sister and I get a kick out of it, whereas my nieces roll their eyes and let out a plaintive “Come on, dad!” as only children can do when they think their parents are being weird.  Still, some of these things are partially their fault as they bring them into his hearing range.  One of these is “How Far I’ll Go” from 2016’s Moana.  I watched it the other night immediately after I got home from seeing The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It, needing a cleansing to my cinematic palate.  Anyway, cross another Disney film off the lists of the ones I had never seen.

Our title character in Moana (voiced by Auli’i Cravalho) is the daughter and heir to her Pacific Island people.  She is raised on creation stories about their people, one of which involves the Mother Island and its struggles with the demi-god Maui (voiced by Dwayne Johnson).  Though he had been imbued with great strength and the ability to shapeshift through the use of a magical, larger-than-normal fishing hook, he craves more.  Thus, when he learns of an enchanted stone with the power to create anything, he sets off to the island of Te Fiti to take it for himself.  Doing so unleashes a lava beast that he is unable to defeat, and eventually he becomes separated from the stone.  Moana eagerly soaks up this tale, but there is something else peculiar about her.  She seems to be drawn to the sea, something that is constantly at odds with her father, Chief Tui (voiced by Temuera Morrison).  He sees her longing for finding out what lies beyond the reef surrounding their island as contradictory to her future duties as their leader.  Besides, the island provides everything they need.  However, one day their fisherman report that their catches are running out, and at the same time the coconuts start to whither.  Faced with the possibility of starvation, Moana proposes that they look for other resources further out at sea.  While Chief Tui is angered by this idea, Moana is encouraged by her Gramma Tala (voiced by Rachel House), who leads her to a long-forgotten cave where the seafaring tradition of their people had been hidden.  Moana believes this will be what will convince her father to widen their search, but again she is denied.  Instead, Gramma Tala gives her the Creation Stone, which she had found when Moana was younger.  Gramma Tala tells her grandchild that she must track down Maui and command him to return the rock to where he found it.  It being out of place for so long is the real reason for their people’s troubles.  Feeling a sense of duty, Moana sets out, despite her lack of sailing skills, with a few supplies and an insane chicken named Heihei (voiced by Alan Tudyk).  This is Disney, after all.  Because of her affinity for the ocean, it guides her to Maui, who had been living alone on a desolate island.  Desolation had apparently not set in, though, as the demi-god kept busy by building statues to himself.  He is also insufferably prideful, and believes Moana is there simply to thank him for all the wonderful things he has done before absconding with her boat without her.  The ocean does not seem pleased with this outcome, and delivers Moana back to the boat.  There she argues with Maui, demanding that he return the stone.  At first, he flatly refuses, but then says that it will be impossible without his magical hook, which he had lost to a giant crab named Tamatoa (voiced by Jemaine Clement).  She agrees to help him retrieve it in exchange for him putting the stone back, but when they manage to pry it from the massive crustacean, he cannot seem to remember how to work it properly.  Still, with her encouragement, they continue on to Te Fiti.  The problem then is getting past the lava monster.  Their first attempt ends with Maui nearly having his hook destroyed, an outcome with which he is none too pleased.  He then abandons Moana, and she carries on despite the risks.  When she nears Te Fiti once more, she manages to sail past the monster, but is sunk before she can get much farther.  She is saved by Maui, though, when, after having a change of heart, holds off the beast long enough to figure out what to do with the stone.  As it turns out, it is the beast’s heart, and when it is put back in its proper position it is revealed that she was the Mother Island the whole time.  In doing so, Moana also saves her people, and Maui is given a new hook.

Creation stories are interesting, and there is one that is at the heart of Moana.  It is suggested that when Maui took the Creation Stone from Te Fiti, he also gave mankind many things upon which they came to rely, like coconuts.  However, doing so also upset, for like of a better, the “balance” of nature.  It is suggested that this is what caused Moana’s people to take to the seas because one-by-one the islands on which they settled die because the Mother Island was upset.  Whatever island they were on would slowly dry up, although somewhere in the distant past they seem to have forgotten this fact.  In the beginning of the film, some of this is revealed in much the same way the Bible was taught to me as a child in Catholic primary school.  They are not meant to be taken literally, but rather as an anecdotal way of explaining natural phenomena around us.  In the film, everyone except for Gramma Tala looks at these stories as basically folklore.  No one actually believes that Maui exists, or that the Creation Stone is anything more than a bauble kept around the neck of an old lady.  Yet, as it turns out, it is all true.  For us Christians, aspects of Genesis should be taken as fact, while others should be seen as the allegories they are meant to be.  For example, there have been some Christians who have read the Old Testament and come to the conclusion that the Earth is a lot younger than what science suggests.  This is not the Catholic position.  To be sure, God created the Earth, not some enchanted Pacific Island.  What the Bible does not explain about what happened at the beginning of, well, everything, should not be taken as meaning that science cannot fill in the gaps in our knowledge, or at least inform them.

Unsurprisingly, Moana is a musical.  Hence, there was much of this I could have done without, but that is only due to my distaste for such productions.  And I brought up the differences in creation stories not as a pejorative, but to draw attention to how such stories come about in our collective consciousness.  Could there have been an anthropomorphic island that created all the other islands in the Pacific?  Maybe?  I try to not get into such specifics, though, and leave it as God being the source of it all.  In sum, the movie is fine.


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