A Few Thoughts on "Moana"


I took the kids to see "Moana" last night. My 6-year-old was a little scared (it definitely earned its PG rating for intensity), and my 9-year-old loved it. I read this review and largely agree with the reviewer's insights. He loved the music (which is so good, and even my kids recognized the similarities to the songwriter's other major work, "Hamilton"), the striking animation, and the cultural sensitivity. His issue was with the same old Disney theme of finding oneself and radical individualism.

I've never been a fan of "The Little Mermaid." The story of a girl so obsessed with a boy and his world that she defies her father to obtain what she wants is not really the inspirational tale I want my daughter to be influenced by. In some ways, "Moana" is a reverse version of this tale--rather than a sea-bound girl longing for the shore, it's a land-stuck girl longing for the sea. It calls to her, speaks inside of her, and she must follow the voice in her heart.

Where this movie differs, in part, is that Moana's call to the sea is not a call to romantic love. She goes to the water to save her people, believing she is called to do so. Along the way, she and her unwilling companion, the demigod Maui, both discover who they truly are. The writer of this review posits that they both attempt to prove themselves worthy. I see where he's coming from, although that didn't strike me when I first thought about the movie. In saying the gods must have thought Maui was "worthy of being saved," I thought Moana tapped into something more universal--the value of every human life. Yet, if we follow this quote to it's conclusion, Disney would have us believe that Maui and Moana are valuable because of what they DO, not because of who they are. Or perhaps who they are is shown through what they do, and that's only valuable if they're saving the world.

It was interesting to see this movie on the same day that I sat and talked with my husband's grandparents about the idea of leaving a legacy. Erik's grandmother has written books, taught crowds, counseled many. Yet in the twilight of her life, her idea of leaving a legacy has far less to do with saving the world and doing big things, and far more to do with small moments. She and her husband pray before they go into Walmart, asking the Spirit to show them where they can leave a small legacy behind them. Each moment is a small mission. They're just doing the next thing--the one right in front of them.

I wonder sometimes if all of our "saving the world" movies and our "doing big things" messages won't saddle our kids with identity crises. Perhaps there's a generation already dealing with many of those things. We can point out Christ figures and symbols, but when everyone starts saving the world, I wonder if we don't lose the wonder of the fact that One Man really did. 

I tried to tie some of these ideas together in talking to my kids after the movie. My daughter loves the Harry Potter books, and we talked about how both Harry and Moana were given a task they didn't seek out. But the difference is perhaps what I have loved so much about the world of Harry Potter--he's an accidental hero. He must not look inside himself for strength...it comes from sacrificial love, the power of friendship, and the consistent small choices that lead to doing the ultimate big thing. 

When I think about some of my heroes--Corrie ten Boom, Sophie Scholl, Amy Carmichael, and many more--none of them set out to save the world. They just made the hard, right choice that was in front of them. And then the next one. And the next one. They didn't feel like heroines. There was no triumphant proclamation of their identities and their authority. Their identities were in Christ. They did the small things faithfully, and eventually it led to what we remember as big things.

I want my children to know their worth is not in what they do--it's in the fact that they bear the image of their Creator. I want them to know that they will never be called on to make the hard choice to save the world, but they will face hard choices each day. If they believe all the answers are inside of them, they will fail to make those right choices and they will suffer under a heavy weight. But if I can teach them that there's One who has already saved the world, and given them all they need--IN HIM--for life and godliness, I hope they will have the joy and freedom of leaving small legacies wherever they go. This may not have much value in the Disney kingdom, but it will in a far greater Kingdom.