Author Archive

Apr 26 2018

The Cultural Significance and Symbolism of the film “Moana”

Published by

Adrian Baker Swicegood III

Professor Marshall

GEO 131

April 19, 2018

The Cultural Significance and Symbolism of the film “Moana”

Image result for moana film poster

          The movie Moana was one of Disney’s most ambitious films. The subject of a story is based on Polynesian and Tongan culture, which is something that has rarely been attempted within Hollywood. Many fears were raised prior to the release of this film because of the thought that Disney wouldn’t do the Culture “justice” and it would simply use it as an Exotic backdrop. This had been seen before in movies such as “Lilo and Stitch” where the story just happens to take place in Hawaii when it could have taken place on an Island. Many of the Actors in the movie also happen to be Pacific Islander, including Moana, her Father and Maui’s respective actors and actresses. Moana brings Polynesian Culture to the big stage and uses animation visuals like never seen before to illustrate traditional Polynesian life before Colonization by the “West”.

          Immediately from the moment, the film starts, Traditional Polynesian music is played in lieu of the normal Disney theme song. Also within moments following the opening credits, an expositional story of the Mythology of the Culture is done entirely in traditional Polynesian art style. This backstory lays out the beliefs of the Polynesians, which includes a Pantheon of gods for various aspects of life as well as Demigods (Half Human and Half God) that serve as heroes. At the beginning of the Movie, Moana, even from an extremely young age is given the “Heart of Te Fiti”, which is a relic from the Island deity known by the same name. This relic was previously stolen from her by the Demigod Maui so that Humans would gain the power of creation and life-giving. The ocean entrusts Moana with the “Heart” because she is the “chosen one” and will restore balance to the world by taking the “heart” back to Te Fiti. However, when the Ocean tries to give Moana the heart when she is a baby, she drops it on the beach, seemingly losing it forever. Moana forgets this event and grows up in her village and spends most of her early life preparing to be Chief of the Island of Motunui  (Something that she does not want to do). When Moana becomes a young adult, her grandmother tells her to follow her dreams and leave the Island because it is what her “heart” wants. Around this same time, m. any of the foods that the islanders of Motunui eat start to become diseased or vanish completely. Moana’s father’s reaction is to ride out the hard times because he is very set in his ways of styling on the island and not leaving to find another “paradise” as he puts it. Moana’s Grandmother shows Moana a cave containing very large Polynesian “wayfinding” ships and tells her that she must make the people of Motunui not forget where they came from and their culture. This creates a lot of tension between Moana and her father, which culminates on the night her Grandmother passed away. On that same night after Moana has an argument, she is rushed to a building where she discovers that her Grandmother has fallen ill and is going to pass away very soon. As Moana’s Grandmother utters her last words, she again tells her to follow her heart and to “save the people of Motunui”. This motivates Moana to pack her stuff and take one of the ships out to sea in the hope of saving the people of Motunui.