It was obvious that the newest Disney Animation Studios movie Moana was on my “must watch” list. It’s Disney, there’s singing, it’s set on the Polynesian islands which is what is listed on our “Dream Vacation” change jar hidden in the closet, and Dwayne Johnson is essentially playing himself…his adorable, handsome, charming self. Sigh. Sorry, where was I?
While we didn’t make it out opening weekend we were there as soon as work ended on a Monday evening, and we were not disappointed.
All things Disney are consistently chock full of outstanding graphics and Moana is extremely on point. I gasped watching water catch briefly on the tiny hairs on Moana’s torso, HER TORSO, and the attention to detail with every hair flick (and there are a lot), especially once we’re introduced to Maui, voiced by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, has to been seen to be believed. That hair is simply incredible.
We watched the film, our two daughters aged 3 and 5 were suuuuuper into it and are so fun to take to the theater these days (but that’s another post since we’ll have a 4 year old TOMORROW!), the story was fun, the songs were catchy, the visuals were stunning, I laughed, I cried, we ate our popcorn, and we went home humming “You’re Welcome”, Maui/The Rock’s showstopping number.
The next morning, I downloaded the soundtrack on ITunes, and Moana incepted me. I didn’t even realize it was happening! One minute I’m humming along to “Where You Are”, one of the earlier musical numbers in the film, and the next, I’m choking back tears in the driver’s seat on my way to school drop off because the theme of the film has hit me hard and fast and I feel all sorts of feels.
At first glance Moana’s themes are similar to other Disney “princess” films (something they draw attention to within the film as a tongue in cheek moment that the adults in the room had a great chuckle over). Moana is conflicted, she has a problem to solve and people to save and a boss to defeat (sorry…video games) and in the process she learns something about herself and the people she meets along the way. Pretty straight forward.
Not so. The subtext of Moana touches so tenderly on something extremely relevant to today, and as a Mom of two daughters…as a Mom of future adults…something I’m hyper aware of every…single…day. How to recognize your own voice.
There are times throughout history when the voices of the oppressed rise up and begin to overpower the voices of the oppressors, when human rights and civil liberties are at the forefronts of our minds and there are those who simply will not be silenced any longer. I hope to raise two human beings who aren’t afraid to raise their voices, who know who they are and what they stand for and aren’t afraid to fight for it. I want to raise them to champion for those are unable to do so for themselves, and to support those who are trying but need help. I want to raise my daughters to be unapologetically themselves, which is something I’ve talked about before when it comes to being a mother and a mother of women. I think that all parents face the challenge of providing a safe space for their children to discover who they are and how they fit into the world and Moana illustrates that struggle beautifully for us and over the course of the movie we see the shift from parental guidance to independence as Moana struggles to meet her family’s expectations before someone gives her permission to listen to the voice inside of her telling her who she really is.
Her challenge during the film is to defy those expectations but she is constantly thrown up against oppositional characters who try to force her to only think about her exterior and the image she presents to others. The song “Shiny” by the character Tamatoa illustrates this in a more obvious way as he sings about having a “shiny” exterior, making your inner self irrelevant, and draws parallels between himself and Maui, the more neutral character in this confidence sandwich who teeters precariously between a people pleasing (literally) facade complete with impressive tattoos and discovering who he really is and what is important to him. (So many conclusions can be drawn here about young girls looking up to Moana and hearing that what you wear or how you do your hair or make-up matters so much less than how you conduct yourself.) Body shaming, low self esteem, teenage fashion trends that include starving yourself, DIY ways to perform plastic surgery or the appearance of it…there is a news story every day about new ways that young women (and men) are trying to manipulate their appearances to “fit in” and it’s awful. It’s awful as a parent to know that one day, someone will say something to one of my daughters that she will carry with her for the rest of her life, eating away at her self esteem and there’s nothing I can do about it.
Nothing, except everything I can to build them up now while they are still young enough to care about what I have to say. Young enough that those first five impressionable years are still in my grasp and I have some influence. So that we can go to movies like Moana and I can say, “Moana was so brave and courageous! Wasn’t she amazing for listening to her voice and knowing who she was? She didn’t let Maui or Tomatoa or even her Mom and Dad tell her to be someone different, she knew what she had to do even though it made her sad.”
Moana may not be for you if you don’t love animated films, or Disney, or musicals, or Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, but the writers of this screenplay nailed it in so many ways when it comes to empowering young women in a world that wants to do everything it can to make us feel small, unwanted, silent, and skinny. It reminds us to go outdoors, bury our toes in the sand and discover what makes us happy and what calls to us. It’s the voice inside that draws me to the people who love that my youngest daughter loves trucks and horses and my oldest loves Karate and building with Lego. It’s my own internal voice that wants to be confident but sometimes avoids going to the comic book store because I don’t want to be judged, or wearing red lipstick, or wearing capris without shaving my legs.
Moana is a wonderful reminder that sometimes, you just need to get on a metaphorical boat and sail it to the middle of nowhere and scream out, “I AM MOANA!” (Well…insert your own name, but you get the idea.) We all need to find our way, and Moana tells us by the end of the film that she KNOWS the way.
We should all be so lucky, but if films continue this trend of empowerment, confidence and diversity we might just find our own ways, whatever they might look like.
I’ll leave you with the lyrics to “I Am Moana (Song of the Ancestors)” which makes me tear up, without fail, every single time I hear it. Auli’i Cravalho’s beautiful and powerful vocals tear right through me.
I know a girl from an island
She stands apart from the crowd
She loves the sea and her people
She makes her whole family proud
Sometimes the world seems against you
The journey may leave a scar
But scars can heal and reveal just
Where you are
The people you love will change you
The things you have learned will guide you
And nothing on earth can silence
The quiet voice still inside you
And when that voice starts to whisper
Moana you’ve come so far
Do you know who you are?
Who am I?
I am a girl who loves my island
I’m the girl who loves the sea
It calls me
I am the daughter of the village chief
We are descended from voyagers
Who found their way across the world
They call me
I’ve delivered us to where we are
I have journeyed farther
I am everything I’ve learned and more
Still it calls me
And the call isn’t out there at all, it’s inside me
It’s like the tide; always falling and rising
I will carry you here in my heart you’ll remind me
That come what may
I know the way
I am Moana!
See it or don’t see it for yourself, but show it to your kids and talk about what they can take away from it, then reinforce those values every…single…day.
Also…Alan Tudyk as the chicken is hilarious. Solid gold.
Recently (or not so recently) WordPress introduced an option to make blog posts private or password protected. Since I love sharing what we get up to I’m happy to give the password out to whomever wants it, but I did go back and password protect most of the blog posts I’ve made, especially any with photos of the girls.
Maybe it’s paranoia in my old age or maybe the constant barrage of Facebook articles about the online presence of children or maybe it’s just that I’ve changed my mind about how open I want to be. Maybe a combination of all three.
Either way, if you’d like the password leave me a comment and I’ll message it to you! You can keep up with us and our day to days (or months to months, in our case) and see the fun photos that don’t make it to Instagram or Facebook until much later. Heh.
And to be clear, it doesn’t matter if I’ve seen you in the last year, or if you are just a casual reader, don’t be shy! I’m happy to share. 🙂