I’m a dad and I love the Moana movie! Moana offers an “articulation” of some of the values or ideas that matter to me and in a way that reaches my daughter more easily than if I were to talk with her about them. Moana impressed me with the issues raised such as: individual and collective identities, self-empowerment/actualization, and reverence to our natural environment. I’m a Polynesian, more specifically a Native Hawaiian and watched Moana five times (before Christmas 2016), and my six-year-old daughter watched it six times. We'll watch it again and try to find the select theaters now showing the “sing-along” version.
Individual and Collective Identities
Moana makes discussing individual and collective identity issues substantially easier because of the visuals. But what are these individual and collective issues?
In summary, the Moana movie provides parents with an opportunity (if this is important to you) to help your children understand the balance between individual freedom and liberties balanced with a responsibility to the collective community.
From the beginning of the movie, audiences are treated to Chief Tui (Moana's dad) singing the song, "Where you are." This song is all about priming Moana to take a leadership role in her village. Some of the song's first lyrics include ”Moana, it’s time you knew; The village of Motunui is all you need;” in a subsequent stanza the lyrics also include, “Our people will need a chief; And there you are.” These excerpted lyrics show the connection between the individual and the community. For some, this may sound like a lot of pressure to put on a teenage child - No Worries!
Gramma Tala (Moana’s paternal grandmother) tempers Chief Tui’s emphasis on Moana’s destiny to her people by encouraging Moana to pursue her individuality. The same song, "Where you are" expresses support for individuality. While singing, Gramma Tala explains:
You are your father's daughter
Stubbornness and pride
Mind what he says but remember
You may hear a voice inside
And if the voice starts to whisper
To follow the farthest star
Moana, that voice inside is
Who you are
When Moana realizes her island's natural resources are threatened, she is compelled to do something about it.
Self-Empowerment and Self-Actualization
As a father, it is important to me that my daughter finds personal strength, confidence, and esteem from within herself, rather than sources other than herself or immediate family. Moana conveys this nicely.
One of the main songs from the Moana movie is, “How Far I’ll Go” sung by Auli’i Carvalho. There is a continuation of the “How far I’ll go” message in a subsequent song titled, “I am Moana.” An excerpt from "How Far I'll Go" is, "See the line where the sky meets the sea; It calls me."
This lyric is indicative of Moana perceiving that there was some external curiosity that called out to her, inspired her, and motivated her. But, after having made a few triumphs along her journey and faced with difficulty and isolation, she subsequently sings a re-affirming “I am Moana” where she states, “And the call isn’t out there at all; it’s inside me."
It’s encouraging to hear my daughter sing these words, and I take every opportunity I can to help her better understand the message - that she is the source of her happiness, motivation, and strength.
While Moana is not a Native Hawaiian story, there are some parallels to Hawaiian stories that can teach the importance of protecting the environment. In Moana, the characters Te Kā and Te Fiti remind me of the volcano goddess Pele and her sister Hiʻiaka.
Weeks after we last watched the movie and drove through Honolulu, my daughter unexpectedly expressed a “new" concern for our environment and told me, “Daddy, I don’t think Te Fiti likes all these buildings put on her!" While she previously expressed some concern for the environment, as learned at school, this was the first time she was able to relate it in a way that was culturally consistent with our beliefs.
While I could write an entire book about Moana, I’ll close with one last important message from Moana that I emphasize with my daughter - related again to self-actualization and self-empowerment.
In the climax of the film, when Moana fearlessly, yet calmly approaches the “villain” Te Kā who is angrily approaching Moana, the heroine sings,
I have crossed the horizon to find you
I know your name
They have stolen the heart from inside you
But this does not define you
This is not who you are
You know who you are
I use this scene to show my daughter that 1.) people may call us names, 2.) they may physically hurt us, and 3.) they may rob us but, no matter what those people do not define who we are. Other people’s actions against us, do not determine who we are or what we will do. I also emphasize that individually, we can help “heal” people who have been hurt by others.
There are many "abstract" ideas, values, or principles that we often want to teach our kids, but have difficulty in doing so. Moana provides great visuals to help us convey our ideas and values to our children.