Minno Movie Review: Moana

By Jessica Wolstenholm

A typical movie review casts shadows of the reviewers’ evaluation of the film and professionally highlights the reasons why the reader should or should not see a movie. I am throwing all caution to the wind, ditching the professionalism, and pretending for a moment  that you and I have are swapping stories from our weekend either at the water cooler at work or on the phone in the car rider line, because I cannot hide my emotions about this film.


Whatever your plans are for this weekend, find a way to fit in a family date night to see the movie, Moana!  Grab your kiddos and all the popcorn, Icee’s, and tissues you can carry and get the best seat in the house. Moana does not disappoint!


Lin-Manuel Miranda, well-known for his work in the Broadway show Hamilton, lends his songwriting skills to Moana. Frozen fans will soon be adding a bit of Polynesian flair to their Spotify playlists with the original songs inspired by the film. With lyrics like, “There comes a day when you’re gonna look around you and realize happiness is where you are …” even the songs in the film have depth and meaning that resonates and elicits emotions beyond the theater seats.


The CG animation in this latest effort from the Disney studios is nothing short of visually stunning. The film brings together two of Disney’s best co-directors, John Musker and Ron Clements, who collaborated on The Little Mermaid and Aladdin. This is their first CG animated movie and they’re are wildly successful at making the vastness of the Pacific Ocean so real that it nearly serves as a warm and friendly character itself. While we did not see the film in 3D, I would not be opposed to a second viewing and it likely wouldn’t take much convincing to drag the rest of my family along with me. The best compliment I could possibly offer is that I was so caught in the storyline, that I didn’t even realize that this wasn’t real life happening just right in front of me. It was as if we’d taken a small plane to the Polynesian Isles on a mini-vacation.


Here is a bit of a breakdown on the storyline …


Moana, voiced by newcomer, Auli’i Cravalho, is the daughter of a Pacific-Island Chief with a play-it-safe mentality. She sees the burden of responsibility her father feels and how the weight of that hovers over him as the resources on the island are dying out. Moana is just the sort of princess we need in this moment! She is a courageous and anxious to lead by serving. While her father (Temuera Morrison) leads from a desire to protect, she is born of action and sees the best in everyone. In Moana, little girls will find a female leader who does not encounter any push back regarding her femininity. Rather, her passionate, caring approach to leading her people is celebrated and she’s empowered. This is further supported by Moana’s grandmother, Tala (Rachel House). She is quirky by nature and sometimes admittedly billed as the village crazy-lady. She helps Moana discover why the sea is calling her and supports the strength we see Moana carry out in being who she is called to be. Like her granddaughter, Grandma Tala shares a love of the sea and a keen connection to her ancestry. While on her death bed, she passes on a necklace that holds the heart of Te Fiti and encourages Moana to find the Maui, played by Dwayne Johnson, and convince him to sail to Te Fiti return the heart to its rightful owner.


While still honoring her family and her people, Moana makes choices to ultimately follow a destiny that is much bigger than herself. She takes risks and ventures out on her own in order to save her people. As she journeys away from the island, Moana looks back and sees Tala’s light go out, indicating she’s passed away. Tala’s spirit then guides her on her journey into the open ocean.  We watch as Moana is willing to seek out her calling in order to accomplish a dream that is selfless in nature and part of a much greater story than her own. Thankfully, comic relief enters the scene in the form of Heihei, a rather daft rooster that unintentionally joins Moana on her journey across the ocean. At times he even overcomes his accident-prone cluelessness and actively risks his life to help her save the heart as it nearly falls into the ocean, proving he is more a help than a complication on the journey.


It is a bit refreshing that this movie doesn’t depict the lead female and male characters in a romantic relationship. As the story is revealed, instead of looking for her prince, Moana is on her own journey to reclaim her peoples’ ancient calling. Maui is a flawed demigod who struggles to believe he is worthy himself. He was born to human parents and left in the sea for dead as an infant. The gods saved him and gave him a fishhook that helps him shape-shift. In his desire to please people, he thought he’d earn the love of the humans by altering the ocean and the land to fit what he deemed as their ultimate need. In doing so, he stole the heart of Te Fiti and gave birth to a wrathful lava monster. His powerful fishhook fell into the hands of a giant vengeful crab. Moana and Maui eventually team up to recover the hook and deliver the jewel setting Moana’s people back on the course of their ancestors as they were voyagers long ago and can be now again.


This is why this story matters …


While the film is loosely based on mythology, I’d like to encourage you, please do not let this deter you from the essential lessons woven through this film. When viewed through the eyes of a believer, the elements of faith are evident and weighty. This is an epic story that is far more than just lore and legend. As a believer, I was able to see deep meaning in the characters of this story. The ocean served as a beautiful reminder of how the Lord pursues and calls us. Grandma Tala can represent how the Holy Spirit draws near to us and is there to help guide us through life. While the film is not overtly Christian, it carries faith-based themes that open the door to important conversations with our children. We used it as an opportunity to remind our boys the importance of listening to the Lord’s call on their lives even at the cost of not following the worlds’ standards and the value in laying down your life for the cause of Christ.


Moana is my kind of princess and this is my kind of story. I hope you’ll make the journey with your family to see this movie because it is certainly worth the price of admission!