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Movie Review

The seas are calling. And they call to a girl named Moana.

Nonsense, you say? Well, her father, Chief Tu, would agree with you. His strictest rule forbids anyone—especially his daughter—from sailing beyond their island's surrounding reef. The danger is just too great. Better to stay put on their peaceful, beautiful isle, he tells her, and prepare for the day when she will lay a stone on the sacred site—like her ancestors before her—to become the first female chief of their people.

The problem is, the sea never goes away. Rules and duty don't make a calling disappear. And that never-silent whisper repeats over and over, telling Moana that something awaits her on the waves. Something so very important. Something that involves, believe it or not, the legendary demigod Maui.

Now, you may not know that tale, but Maui's story is nothing new to young Moana. Her Gramma Tala has told it to her since she was just a tiny child. And it sings in her heart.

It's the story of a shapeshifting demigod who uses an oversized magical hook to transform himself into all manner of birds or sea creatures. The story tells of him stealing the gem-like heart of Te Fiti, the Mother Island and creator of all things. And it recounts Maui's battle with a huge, dangerous lava monster that attacks the mischievous demigod, sending both his hook and the heart of Te Fiti to the deepest depths of the ocean.

Now, most folks on Moana's island would likely insist that outsized tale is nothing more than a silly myth. Of course, they'd also claim that the steady deterioration spreading through their part of the Pacific is nothing either. The fish disappearing, the lush foliage turning brown, the coconuts rotting on the trees—all this has nothing to do with an island god's missing heart, they would say.

But Moana knows better.

She also knows that her Gramma's story ends with a hero's prophecy: A brave soul will someday sail far into the ocean, find the hook and the gem-heart and force the scheming Maui to replace what he once stole away. That task will take someone with courage, someone with strength and fortitude. It will require a person who confronts the dangers of that quest and heeds the calls of the sea.

And though Moana knows nothing of sailing, and nothing of standing up to great danger or of battling powerful foes, she does know one thing: She knows that she hears the call.

And the ocean's powerful song is one she cannot resist.

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Positive Elements

Moana does indeed set out on her sea-going journey and meets the demigod Maui … who turns out to be something of a conceited jerk. But eventually he learns lessons of loyalty and sacrifice—qualities that define Moana's character.

Moana's a focused and determined teen girl who is willing to face death in order to help her people and to right wrongs that have been perpetrated in the past. And the movie reinforces the important idea that striving to do what's good and right will result in a better world.

Even though Moana's Gramma Tala wants her granddaughter to break out and follow the "voice inside," she also encourages Moana to mind her father. For his part, Moana's seemingly overprotective dad is adamant about his reef rules because he lost a childhood friend in that place, and he wants to keep anyone else from harm, if possible.

Spiritual Content

This whole film is loosely based on Hawaiian mythology about a demigod and an island goddess. As such, it's predictably packed with all the trappings of those particular mythological legends about creation, demigods and the magical powers of the sea—not to mention some of the fierce creatures that live there. At one point, for instance, Moana and Maui must venture down an incredibly deep hole into a subterranean "realm of monsters" dominated by a giant magical crab.

A glowing, stingray-like spirit of a deceased loved one—and a more human-looking version of that spirit—both guide Moana at points along her journey. Moana's ancestors send her a dream-like vision of their past seagoing travels.

Maui is covered with tattoos that appear on his body after he accomplishes great deeds. The moving tattoos also wordlessly interact with Maui himself, illustrating scenes of importance.

Sexual Content

None.

Violent Content

While never overly perilous, there are a few thumping moments in the movie mix. Maui goes toe-to-toe with a giant, fireball-lobbing Lava Giant on a couple of occasions, getting bashed about and slightly singed in the process. Moana has to duck some massive fireballs herself. A giant crab slashes at the heroes, repeatedly mashing Maui into the ground. Little coconut pirates, called the Kakamora, throw spears and shoot blow darts.

Several people are battered about by ocean waves and raked across an underwater coral reef in the process. Someone gets a foot caught in a coral crag and is temporarily trapped under water. Another character is reportedly killed (off-camera). Elsewhere, a man gets a painful tattoo.

Crude or Profane Language

An angry Moana yells out an unfinished, "You lying son of a …" Maui complains about being shot in the "butt cheek" by a drugged dart.

Drug and Alcohol Content

The Kakamora pirates shoot blow darts coated with some kind of tranquilizer drug that leaves victims temporarily paralyzed. Maui gets hit by one.

Other Negative Elements

Moana feels compelled to break her father's rule about the reef. (She later apologizes for her disobedience, but by then he recognizes that she was trying to accomplish a greater good.) Maui repeatedly mentions his intention to eat Moana's pet chicken. Two subtle toilety giggles involve urinating in the sea.

Conclusion

Bright and colorful animation paired with catchy songs signal the arrival of another new Disney princess in Moana.

Now, Moana herself would deny that there's anything particularly princessy about her. But as we watch her sally forth and sing her songs, and as we chuckle over her featherbrained and bug-eyed chicken sidekick, well, that fine-tuned Mouse House princess template can't help but show through.

This time around, Disney has shifted away from its typical focus on fairy tales and love stories, setting its narrative sights on a blend of Hawaiian myth and Pacific Ocean adventure. Also veering from the script a bit is Dwayne Johnson-voiced Maui, who's much more a rogue-like foil than a prince-like hero. But everything still fits the blueprint. And it's an enjoyable design, to be sure.

The film's messages of striving to make your mark, dreaming your dreams and overcoming your obstacles are equally familiar. Those themes definitely reinforce the film's upbeat and unmissable girl-power vibe, but not so much that young boys would likely be too put off by it. Meanwhile, parents are treated to yet another popcorn-munching pic full of fantastical magic, seasoned with do-the-right-thing wishes and just a dash of buy-this-Disney-plush-toy commercialism.

Speaking of magic, the movie's mythological milieu parallels what we might expect to see in a similar story about Greek or Roman gods and goddesses. But for Christian parents who want to engage fully with this film's narrative, there are plenty of compare-and-contrast observations to be made about how Moana's spiritual outlook overlaps a bit with Christianity … and where it differs significantly from it.

That said, the spiritual elements in Moana never seem occultish or unnavigable. They merely provide the backdrop for a story about a young woman courageously embracing her calling and bravely rescuing her people in the process.

And that's a story Disney knows how to tell very well.

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Plot Summary

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