The Motley News

Moana: Not Just a Princess Movie


My first in-theater film for 2017 was Moana and what a way to start the year! It’s been ages since I’ve made the effort to see an animated film in theaters, but I made an exception for this one. If you haven’t seen Moana yet, please take time to see an inspiring story about a girl who kicks ass. I’ve got my reasons for pressuring you; here they are:

1. The sheer amount of Pacific Islander voice actors

Actors: Auli’i Cravalho (Moana), Dwayne Johnson (Maui), Jermaine Clement (Tamatoa, Crab Guy), Rachel House (Gramma Tala), Temuera Morrison (Chief Tui, Moana’s dad), Nicole Scherzinger (Sina, Moana’s mom), and Oscar Kightley (fisherman).

All of these actors are Hawaiian, Maori, or Samoan; because who better to tell this story than the people of this area. Also, please check out Rachel House and Oscar Kightley in the New Zealand film The Hunt for the Wilderpeople, it was beautiful, hilarious, and so heart-warming. For the 16-year-old, Auli’i Cravalho (Moana), this was her first acting role ever. She’s a native Hawaiian who was thrilled to represent her people in a film like this. Watch her react to the news that she got the part here.

2. The music is amazing

Lin-Manuel Miranda (Hamilton) and Opetaia Foa’i (Samoan singer) contributed to the soundtrack and you can hear their vocals in the main song, “We Know Our Way.” It definitely encapsulates the message of the film: going beyond what you know, exploring new paths, and the history of the Pacific Island voyagers. Also, Jermaine Clement (Flight of the Concords) sings a David Bowie-esque song as giant freaky crab!

3. Moana is not just a princess

And she makes that clear when Maui teases her for it. True, she is next in line as her people’s chieftain, but she’s not like any other vintage Disney Princess. In preparation for her eventual crown, Moana is shown training for the job by seeing to the community’s needs. She solves problems about her village, advises her people, and ultimately sets out into the unknown to save them. She does this without any real knowledge of the water or navigation, but she’s a quick learner when she meets Maui.

4. Understanding your past

Moana’s grandmother’s storytelling and guidance is the major catalyst for the film’s plot. Gramma Tala acts as the Polynesian griot by providing Moana (and the audience) with creation stories about Maui, the land, and the seas. It’s always a good idea to study other society’s creation stories, since they’re a great insight into a their present-day language, ecology, and values. More concretely, Moana must understand her people’s past (island exploration), in order to understand her own purpose and solve village’s present-day problems.

5. An environmental message

From the very beginning, when baby Moana helps a baby sea turtle make its way into the ocean, you can tell this is a character who values the land and the animals that inhabit it. Her sidekick, Hei Hei, is another good example of her empathy. She cares for the dumb chicken, who pecks at random things, while people warn her that the chicken is kind of useless. I hope that children watching this film, believe that any animal, regardless of its looks, can be valued as a sentient being.


Call me a “close watcher,” but when Moana is confronted by the volcano monster, she doesn’t fight back. Instead, she offers empathy. I took this as an illustration of our relationship with the natural world. Much of the industrialized world sees the environment as a hindrance to our production. Which is why we’re in trouble today (deforestation, polluted seas, and shrinking ozone). Moana knows what the land offers her and her people, so she works with the natural world so that they can peacefully coexist.

6. Get out of your comfort zone

Anyone can understand the Chief’s response to his daughter’s desire to be on the water. He wants her to be safe and rule on an island where nothing can hurt her. Looking closer, we can see what happens when you have “island mentality.” Staying within the boundaries you create, doesn’t guarantee your safety (as we saw in the film). You’re also unlikely to learn anything new. We live in a country where people share a strong sense of “island mentality;” we fear new challenges, new people and exchanging new ideas. I could say a lot about our lack of meaningful exploration, but I think you get the idea. When you leave the confines of your island, there is risk, but you will learn something about the world and yourself.

Author: charishreid

Writer and Educator.

2 thoughts on “Moana: Not Just a Princess Movie

  1. I took my daughter and her best friend–two seven-year-old girls–to see it, and I thought of myself at that age, watching Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty, and I know we have a long way to go still, but to see a female character who has agency and a life and a sense of responsibility to others (and not just cutesy spunkiness, like in Frozen) felt new. I love that she has this desire to learn and that she makes mistakes, and your point about empathy is spot on. I had not thought about that, but it’s exactly right.


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