I am Moana of Motunui you killed my father, prepare to restore the heart of Te Fiti.
I am Moana of Motunui (you killed my father, prepare to restore the heart of Te Fiti). I guarantee I am not the first to make an Inigo Montoya joke while watching Moana, and I am certain I will not be the last. If you don’t want jokes and are after actual informative commentary (snore) skip me and head to Michael’s section below.
We have a new Small Person in our household. He is eight months old now, which is a great excuse to rewatch Moana. The movie begins. Small Person is utterly captivated (Is it the colours? The alien-like eyes to mouth proportions?) while eating an entire slice of bread.
The first song begins, and Michael asks if I’m ready to consider a coconut. Sure enough, the Chief introduces the island and provides some exposition (don’t leave said island) and asks us to consider the coconut. I consider it. I look to Small Person. He is still fixed to the screen, crust of bread hanging from his mouth. He is on the lap of Michael, who is gently misting up with the joy he reserves only for animated musicals.
We are treated to the exact moment a pig is traumatised, witnessing a trusted companion consume (and visibly enjoy) the flesh of his kind. There is a ridiculous chicken. We’re expected to suspend our belief, and not question that Moana hasn’t already explored the entirety of her island, including a pile of significant rocks and a cave of ships.
Spoiler: Moana leaves the island.
Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson is introduced. We truly are welcome. Small Person grooves, chewed bread wetly landing on the carpet. The cheaper of the Flight of Conchords duo is an enormous, narcissistic crustacean bent on encapsulating himself with treasure.
We learn that demigods have problems too (beyond having tattoos betraying their innermost thoughts and feelings) as he abandons Moana. She is visited by the stingray ghost of her grandmother. The reprise energises our protagonist, she can do this. Michael turns to me, and with great earnest declares, “Moana rocks!”
The Rock Returns. Hell hath no fury like an island goddess scorned. Moana recognises Te Fiti, the lava of her rage had transformed her into Te Ka. She parts the sea, and like a total badass walks in slow motion while singing. When Te Fiti’s heart is restored, she blooms. Te Fiti receives the apology she deserves from The Rock. She forgives that he stole her heart and cut off her lava hands repeatedly. She gives him a present, which infuriates me.
Small Person sustains long “ooh” sounds throughout the credits. As I clean up the remnants of his bread, I think to myself, “I can’t believe that ridiculous chicken didn’t perish.”
I could play up the toxicity of not wanting to admit that I cry during, let me check, oh every movie I’ve ever seen. However, I’m far too emotionally mature for that. I cried in Moana. Possibly up to five times. I lost count.
Why do I cry in movies? It happens with such great regularity that you’ll be unsurprised to hear that I’ve analysed the phenomenon to some extent. You see, it’s not about plots being miserable. I watch Cries and Whispers with the biggest smile across my face.
No, the thing that gets to me is when two characters are torn between their ideal and what is right for the other person. Moana’s need to leave Motunui isn’t rooted in selfishness for adventure (well, not completely) but rather in the need to self-actualise her identity. This is contrasted with the, perfectly valid, conservatism of her father; ‘This is how we do things and this is why’. Our innate understanding of storytelling informs us that the father is placed in the antagonist’s role but he is completely sympathetic, affectionate and understanding, which causes some mild cognitive dissonance in the ‘trope-aware’ viewer. The father is stopping the adventure from proceeding but you can’t fault him for it. It’s kind of like how Luke Skywalker’s Uncle and Aunt don’t want him to leave the relative safety of Tatooine and risk what happened to his father happening to him, but that doesn’t make me cry… because there is one key difference.
There’s no songs in that scene in Star Wars, cleanly and beautifully exposing all the perspectives up to that point (side note: Moana is a lot like Star Wars down to the part where Maui, leaves all Han Solo - turning into some kind of falcon, I might add - and then returning to help in the denouement). The revered songwriter, Howard Ashman (who worked on several Disney films with the co-directors of this film, John Musker and Ron Clements), oft-spoke of the ‘I Want’ song in musicals. Where the story literally stops and the lead character, often some derivation of an ingénue, just tells you what they want and why. When coupled with an irresistible melody its a recipe for tears.
In Moana the I Want song is ‘How Far I’ll Go’ but the film cleverly puts it directly after the song ‘Where You Are’ which expertly introduces all the reasons why Moana’s village needs to operate in the established, contiguous way. It thrusts that cognitive dissonance right in your face and shows there is no villain in Moana’s first act (there isn’t really a true villain by the end of the film either) just people who have opposing, defensible, viewpoints.
The movie starts so strong that I can’t help being emotionally invested in the rest of it. I don’t think the film is ever as strong as its first act, but the whole picture continues with this goodwill extended to it; we’re always aware of what is at stake, what it will mean for Moana to succeed and how brave you have to be to vindicate your own gut feelings over conventional wisdom.