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Moana: Decoding The Inspiration

Updated: Oct 27, 2018

Moana is arguably the most inspirational Disney princess of them all. She is the daughter of the village chief on the island of Motunui and, throughout the tale, she is able to fight off whatever obstacles life throws at her. In the end, she saves the people of her island with her bravery and determination. Each setback she encounters she defeats head on, and she never stays down for long. She is truly a strong role model for all young girls, especially those who have a desire for adventure.

Even from a young age, Moana loved the ocean. She felt drawn to it, but her father, Chief Tui, believed that the ocean was dangerous, so nobody from the island was allowed to sail beyond the reef. Moana never lost her love for and connection to the ocean, but she respected her father’s wishes and suppressed that desire of hers. In the song “Where you are,” Moana’s father encourages her to search for happiness on the island rather than focusing on her desire to sail into a forbidden sea. Her father was teaching her that she shouldn’t always desire what she can’t have. In today’s society, girls who have straight hair always want curly hair, and those with curly hair wish that it were straight. People always want to be taller, shorter, or in some way different than what they actually are. It is rare to see someone completely content with exactly what they have. Chief Tui told Moana “find happiness right where you are,” and she tried. Moana was willing to sacrifice an aspect of her life that brought her happiness in order to comfort her father and protect her village on Motunui. This shows Moana’s selflessness and the respect she had for her father. Chief Tui actually sailed beyond the reef with his friend when he was younger, and his friend died on the journey. Moana understood how this experience shaped the way her father viewed the ocean and was considerate enough to stay away from the ocean out of love for her father and her island. Many parents argue with their children because parents are always trying to protect their children, and they don’t want them to make the same mistakes that they made. It is important that children try to understand their parents viewpoints just like Moana did, but it is also important that parents understand that children will make mistakes and will sometimes have to forge their own paths.This is exactly what Moana did. In the end, Moana did search for something more, but her story still teaches us that it is important to try to be happy with what we have. If you indeed need to follow your heart, then it is important to weigh your options and make a calculated decision.

Grandma Tala was Moana’s paternal grandmother. She was a wise old woman and, in the movie, she is a crucial character who helps Moana find out who she is and who she is meant to become. While her father encourages her to focus on the island, and the people she will lead, her grandmother offers a different perspective. Her grandmother always encouraged her to do what she loves and sail beyond the reef, but what she was really advocating was that Moana should do what she desires and what she believes is right. Although she believes it is Moana’s fate to return the heart of Te Fiti, she doesn’t argue with her when Moana decides she will just stay on the island. Grandma Tala teaches Moana that everyone will have different opinions on how Moana should live her life. People would try to convince her to walk down a different path, and although it is important to listen to differing perspectives, Grandma Tala knew that the most crucial thing was for Moana to do what she believed was right because, ultimately it was her life on the line. Even though Grandma Tala was crucial in Moana’s character development and her ability to discover who she was, she was known as the crazy lady in the village. This is important because it shows that the way people are portrayed or stereotyped doesn’t always reflect the kind of person that they are inside. In fact, Grandma Tala knew her duty was to help her granddaughter, so she was never swayed by what others thought about her. She knew who she was, and she helped Moana do the same and, in the end, encouraged her to follow her heart and sail beyond the reef.

The first time Moana tried to sail, she failed. While confidently singing “How Far I’ll Go,” she paddled into the ocean in search of fish. Strong winds and waves knocked her around, and her boat tipped over when Pua, the very cute pig, fell out and she tried to help him, distracting her from the big wave about to crash down upon her. She injured her foot escaping the coral and eventually ended up back on the shore exhausted, where her grandma found her. What strikes me most about this incident is that Moana may have succeeded if she hadn’t tried to save the pig but, without hesitation, she tried to paddle toward Pua and her loving nature was displayed. It is also notable that part of the reason she couldn’t succeed is because she was not ready. She tried to sail into the Ocean without doing her research, and although she had the confidence, she wasn’t armed with the information she needed to succeed. This teaches viewers that no one succeeds without proper preparation. Moana's family also did not know that she was leaving and, without the support of her family, she was bound to fail. Another vital lesson she teaches us is to learn from our failures and never be afraid to try again.

Moana was frustrated by her lack of success, so she decided that it was time for her to stop dreaming about the ocean and just focus on the island. Grandma Tala did not try to talk her out of it, but she did arm her with the information that allowed her to be successful when she set sail for the second time. She showed her all the boats on the Island that the village people used to use to find new islands. They used to be voyagers and wayfinders but, after Maui took the heart of Te Fiti, it was too dangerous to keep sailing into the unknown, so they stopped.

Moana knew it was time for her to restore the heart to its rightful owner. Her mother gave her a bag of coconuts to show her support. Coconuts are considered the life of the island, and this was symbolic of Moana’s voyage to return life to all the islands by restoring the heart. The song, “How Far I’ll Go,” was played the first time that Moana attempted to sail beyond the reef. This time however Moana was victorious as she sang the reprise of the same song.

Before Moana sets sail for the second time, her grandmother falls sick but, on her deathbed, she encourages Moana to go on her journey to restore the heart of Te Fiti. With the support of her family and the heart in her locket, she and a chicken named Hei Hei, set sail. As she sails for days, she practices what she must say to Maui in order to convince him to help her. She says, “I am Moana of Motunui. You will board my boat, sail across the sea, and restore the heart of Te Fiti.” Unfortunately, she hits a storm that throws her off the boat and tips it over. After an unsuccessful attempt, she asks the ocean for help, but it appeared that the ocean was ignoring her plea. She and Hei Hei wound up on a small island. She yells at the ocean frustrated by its lack of help, but she soon discovers that the ocean had actually helped her in the form of a storm that led her right to Maui. Often when we go through rough patches in our lives, we view them completely as negative but, as the common saying goes, “every cloud has a silver lining,” and it is important to realize that even our tough experiences shape us and have the ability to change our lives for the better.

When Moana and Maui meet, we learn the details of who Maui is. He is a demigod who has a huge ego but an equally huge heart. Everything that he did in his life was to help humans. He created the tides, the sun, the sky, the wind, the coconuts, and he even pulled up islands for the voyagers to find. Most importantly, he stole the heart of Te Fiti in order to give humans the power of creation, not because he had malicious intentions. Even though the villagers from the Island on Motunui view Maui as an evil figure, he is actually good-hearted and was trying to help them. This is a common theme in the story. All of the characters that are viewed as evil are not bad people but, instead, are either corrupted or are misinterpreted. It is also important to note that Maui had been helping humans for thousands of years but, as soon as he made one mistake, he was suddenly labeled as a villain. A crucial lesson that young girls can learn from this is that they shouldn’t judge people from one mistake and, instead, should look past that mistake just like Moana learned to do as she spent more time with Maui. At first, however, Maui treated Moana horribly. He tried to steal her boat and abandon her on the island. Thankfully, she was able to escape, but when Maui made mistakes, such as abandoning Moana, his tattoos got angry at him. Throughout the movie, his tattoos encouraged him to do the right thing and they represented his conscience. His conscience was telling him to work together with Moana, but it took some time for him to finally understand Moana’s strengths.

As Moana and Maui sailed on, and tried to find his fishhook so that they could restore the heart, they continued to have trouble getting along. Maui continuously called her a princess, but Moana told him that she wasn’t a princess and reminded him that she is the daughter of the village chief. By saying this, Moana is not saying that she isn’t a princess, but instead she is encouraging viewers to dispel the stereotypical weak meaning of a princess, and associate it instead with what she truly is: a strong princess who is the daughter of the village chief. Moana knew she needed Maui so it was important to convince him to work with her. Maui continuously pushed Moana off the boat and into the water but thankfully, the ocean pulled her back up onto the boat, and when Maui tried to escape by jumping off, it did the same. This signifies how nature is trying to get them to work together and that it is unnatural for girls and boys not to work together and take advantage of each other’s strengths.

Another remarkable part of Moana’s character is her curiosity to learn. She takes advantage of every opportunity she has. She knows that Maui is a master wayfinder, so she could just sit back and let him do the work but, instead, she wants to learn how to do it herself. She begs Maui to teach her, and, with a little help from the ocean, she succeeds. She slowly learns what it takes to sail the way her people used to when it was safe. Moana also understands her surroundings so she can take advantage of different situations. She knows Maui has a big ego and he loves being considered a hero so, when Maui doesn’t want to help her restore the heart of Te Fiti, she knows exactly how to convince him. She appeals to his ego by reminding him that if he helped her on their journey, he would once again be a hero to all.

In order to find Maui’s fishhook, Moana and Maui had to find Tamatoa who lived in the realm of monsters. Tamatoa is a crab who is obsessed with shiny and valuable things, so he had Maui’s fishhook. When Moana jumped into the realm of monsters, even after Maui told her that she would die, she proved her bravery, and she turned out being an integral part of their escape plan. She knew that she and Maui were not strong enough to defeat the giant clam with brute force, so she took advantage of Tamatoa’s weakness. He was greedy and always wanted more shiny objects, so Moana covered a barnacle with bioluminescent algae so it looked like the heart of Te Fiti and threw it so that the clam would chase after it. This gave Moana and Maui just enough time to escape with the fishhook. The theme of the evil characters never being merely bad continues with Tamatoa, because he doesn’t have a malicious personality but, instead, was corrupted by greed. The enemy here is greed and not Tamatoa himself. Nobody is intrinsically bad, just corrupted by evil emotions.

After they got Maui’s fishhook back, it was time for Moana and Maui to find Te Fiti and restore the heart to her. They needed to make it past Te Ka, the lava monster in order to get to Te Fiti but, unfortunately, that was the tricky part. They tried to fight her off, but they were not able to because she was too strong and they were blasted back into the middle of the ocean. Maui’s fishhook was cracked, and one more blow would prove fatal. Moana was discouraged, but she was ready to try again. Maui, on the other hand, was angry and he was unwilling to try again. He turned into a hawk and flew away leaving Moana alone. This is when Moana finally found herself. For a moment she wanted to give up but then her grandma's memories came back to her to remind her to look within herself and discover who she was meant to be. Moana realized that she had traveled across the sea and had made it this far, so she was not going to give up. She didn’t need Maui and was strong enough to do it on her own. Moana traveled back to Te Ka and tricked her. Te Ka couldn’t see which way Moana was moving, which gave her the head start she needed. In the end, Maui did decide to return even though Moana had to accomplish most of the work herself.

Moana almost lost the heart of Te Fiti, but Hei Hei actually caught it in his beak, and he saved the day. This is significant because, throughout the whole story, Hei Hei was portrayed as the unintelligent chicken who continuously fell into the ocean and couldn’t even figure out how to eat correctly but, at the end, he was a hero. This shows that everyone, no matter what they seem like on the outside, has a skill to offer. This is why it is beneficial to treat everyone with kindness and respect regardless of their intelligence or skill level.

When Moana makes it past Te Ka, she looks for Te Fiti, but she can’t find her. She sees the outline of where she used to be, but doesn’t see the spiral that is supposed to be the home of the heart of Te Fiti. She glances over at Te Ka, and she realizes that Te Ka really is Te Fiti. Te Fiti just turned into Te Ka when her heart was stolen from her. This again follows the theme of the evil characters as internally good, only being pushed into malicious behavior. The fact that Moana was able to see the good in a lava monster shows Moana’s character and the way she treats everything with love. In addition, she is able to convince Te Ka that she is not a monster and that she really is Te Fiti, the goddess of creation.

Moana is a wonderful role model for everybody because she is the epitome of a brave, loving, and an enterprising individual. Throughout her journey, she is able to find herself and realize her own strength. In the world today, it is common for young girls to downplay their intelligence or not see how talented they are. Moana is an example of a girl who proves that young women can do anything and everything they set their minds to, including saving the world.

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