Moana Movie Review: A Kick-Ass Girl, the Pacific Ocean and Wayfinding
Already critically-acclaimed, the Disney movie Moana blends strong environmental themes with the region and culture that’s the most vulnerable to climate change on Earth–Polynesia. The 16-year-old heroin of the movie, Moana, embarks on an epic quest to save her island and restore the natural balance of the world (without any love story in sight). As an Oceania native, I had been looking forward to a movie celebrating Polynesian culture and heritage and was not disappointed. In this Moana movie review, I share my family’s take on the Disney movie as well as behind-the-scenes Pacific Ocean navigation and wayfinding resources.
Did someone say global warming?
Moana: Soundtrack & Independence
Last Sunday, I took both my girls (ages 11 and 13) to a media screening of Moana at Leicester Square and their response was overwhelmingly positive. While my musically-inclined 13-year-old loved the soundtrack, my free-spirited 11-year-old rooted for Moana’s independent and strong character.
Indeed, the movie’s best song, “Shiny” is a glam tune belted by a treasure-obsessed crab who’s no less than Jemaine Clements of The Flight of the Conchords fame. Other songs feature Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson (“You’re Welcome” is a crowd-pleaser of a song), Alessia Cara and Samoan musicians whose drums and Polynesian polyphonies were true music to my ears.
If Moana could be compared to any other Disney movie, it would be Brave because of Moana’s strong and fighting spirit. As much as Princess Merida was a true Scottish warrior, Moana is a true explorer and leader. It’s very relaxing to watch a Disney movie without any romance and whose true highlights are ocean navigation and teenage independence.
For my youngest daughter, one of the movie’s messages was fatherly disobedience and of course, she loved the idea that she could be her own boss. Since it’s a coming-of-age movie, there’s a bit of that. However, parents need to know that the movie is actually a lot about respecting your elders and your kids are probably not going to take off on a canoe to paddle beyond the reef and across the Pacific Ocean tomorrow. As the movie shows, you need to be a chosen one to succeed.
Moana: Age Recommendations
Age-wise, the film is great for school-age kids as it includes a a few scary scenes that make it tricky for little ones. A few toddlers in the audience actually cried during the screening that we attended.
Note that some kids (and tender-hearted adults) might be upset by the death of a beloved grand-parent character in the movie, but there are equally heartwarming scenes of happiness and success.
Moana: Wayfinding & Pacific Ocean Exploration
The story is inspired in part by oral histories of the people and cultures of Oceania, where filmmakers traveled to learn as much as possible. For centuries, the greatest navigators in the world masterfully navigated the vast Pacific, discovering the many islands of Oceania. But then, around 3,000 years ago, their voyages stopped for a millennium – and though there are theories, no one knows exactly why.
“Navigation— wayfinding—is such a big part of Pacific culture,” says director John Musker. “Ancient Polynesians found their way across the seas, wayfinding island-to-island without the use of modern instruments, using their knowledge of nature, the stars, the waves and the currents.”
Wayfinding can be defined as spatial problem solving. It is knowing where you are in a building or an environment, knowing where your desired location is, and knowing how to get there from your present location. Clements and his team traveled to the Samoa, Fiji and Tahiti, they heard many times from the people they met that the ocean doesn’t separate the islands, it connects them.
Voyaging is a real source of pride for Pacific Islanders, a part of their identity. They were, and continue to be, some of the greatest explorers of all time. This pride in their cultural traditions, that sense of connectedness to the ocean, and by the ocean, became central to the story. It’s why the story’s protagonist, and the film itself, is named ‘Moana’—the word for ‘ocean’ in many Polynesian languages. Illustrating the end of the millenium gap in ocean exploration, she is at the heart of the rebirth of wayfinding.
Moana: Resources on Wayfinding
Modern kids consider GPS technology to be the pinnacle of finding your way outside, but wayfinding is a really cool traditional way to use landmarks and spatial clues to reach your destination.
- Hōkūle‘a: The Art of Wayfinding (Interview With a Master Navigator) – National Geographic Blog
- Introduction to Wayfinding and Signage Design – Design Workplan
- Disney.com/WayfindingWithCode – a free online tutorial that offers an introduction to the basics of computer science, featuring characters from the upcoming Disney animated film, Moana. In conjunction with the launch of “Moana: Wayfinding with Code,” Disney also announced activations across the world that invite millions of students to learn the basics of coding. Created in close collaboration with Code.org, the “Moana: Wayfinding with Code” tutorial will be available in more than 180 countries and 23 languages, including Samoan Polynesian, giving children all over the world the opportunity to learn the basics of coding.
Related to wayfinding and geography, kids can also learn to