Growing up there are basic facts about life that everyone knows. These facts prove that the Earth is round, water is a liquid, and everybody loves Raymond. Sometimes we have our own truths that we perceive as fact, that change us, and we must build our lives around.
I found myself in such a case nearly three years ago, when I finished my first viewing of the animated Disney film, Moana. I want to discuss why I’m so in love with this film, and hopefully, explain why I listen to its soundtrack nearly every day.
Moana excellently uses the idea taught in film that a character’s lateral motion from left to right shows the progression of a character and the story. For example, throughout the whole film Moana is drawn to the ocean, to show this with visuals, the film cleverly has the ocean to her right and the island of Motunui to her left.
This is seen in all of the film, but easiest seen in the sequence in which Moana sings “How Far I’ll Go.” In this song, when she’s singing about how much she loves the ocean she’s looking and walking to the right. When she’s singing about how she hates island life, she’s looking and walking to the left.
Further proof of this can be seen that there are only a few times that Moana goes to the left of the screen. A great example of this is when Moana comes into frame from the left of the screen to find herself at her home island, which we discover is a dream sequence. The film uses the fact that the audience knows that left is going backwards to tell us something isn’t quite right, immediately from the start of the scene.
The film technique is used wonderfully here to help show how the ocean represents the ideas of the future, of unknown possibilities that can take you anywhere, whereas the island represents the ideas of the past, that we shouldn’t try and do new things, only that of ‘tradition.’
Moana’s script is extremely self-aware, and this works towards the film’s advantage. Multiple times in the script, it pokes fun at other classic Disney princess tropes. The entrance to Lalotai, the realm of the monsters, is on a remote island at the top of a high mountain. When reaching the top, Moana stands at the edge of a cliff, and contemplates whether or not she’s right for this mission. Instead of having Moana sing about her life, the script sees Maui, standing behind her say, “If you start singing, I’m gonna throw up.”
Maui’s character development is awesome. When we’re first introduced him, he sings his song, “You’re Welcome.” In this song, Maui selfishly brags about all the accomplishments he’s achieved over his many years of being a demi-god. The whole plot of the film revolves around Moana needing to replace the Heart of Te-Fiti, and she enlistes the help of Maui, the guy who stole it in the first place, to help put it back.
These two elements of Maui’s character collide when we find out that he didn’t just steal the heart for the humans, he stole it for himself, so that he could feel a sense of pride from the humans when he told them what he had done. At first, he only joins along with Moana if they make a stop at Lalotai, in order to get his magical fish hook (because you know how it is.) In this process, they come across Tamatoa, who, in song form obviously, gives us a further glimpse into Maui’s character saying, “Far from the ones who abandoned you, chasing the love of these humans, who made you feel wanted.”
After this, Maui explains how he was once human, and that the gods took him and made him into a demi-god. This relates not only back to what I had discussed previously, but also into the fact that this he starts to realise that the journey he’s taking makes him feel that neededness he so desperately wants. When Moana and Maui first arrive at Te-Feti they are greeted by Te Kā, the lava monster, who shows the duo who’s boss by bringing Maui’s hook to the point that one more hit will destroy it.
Due to this, Moana and Maui get into an argument in which Maui claims, “Without my hook, I am nothing!” and leaves Moana. This shows how just as Maui was about to reach the point of realizing who he was, he slides back into the person we met stranded on an island at the beginning of the film. When Moana decides to return to Te-Feti, right as she’s about to be taken out by Te Kā, none other than Maui sweeps in to save the day. Moana thanks Maui, to which he responds, “You’re Welcome.”
Just like that, with one line of dialogue, all of Maui’s character choices come full circle. He goes from someone who was only on the journey for himself, to someone that willingly came back on his own to commit a selfless act. Small side note that might blow your mind, Maui and Han Solo go through the same character development in this film and A New Hope.
There are several elements of Moana’s character that make her interesting and relatable, but there’s specifically one that shows it is possible for Hollywood to write good female characters. Throughout the film, she over and over again performs one action that proves this… she fails. From sailing incorrectly, to getting herself and Maui almost killed, she is constantly making mistakes.
This is a fantastic trait within film characters because it not only makes it more satisfying to see our main hero succeed at those skills in the end, but also gives the audience a reason to care about what’s going on in the story as a whole.
Many films do the same as Moana, take the good parts from other films and use them in their own. What Moana does excellently, that makes it stand out, is take these basic film elements and apply them by having them actually matter to the story, and hold value overall. Fact.