Moana: A Disney Story of Polynesian Legends and a Great Ocean Adventure

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Ah yes, looks like I found another great Disney movie. 

Do you love swimming in the ocean? Let's say you're not a good swimmer, would you still like going to the beach? Lol. I know I would. This means a Disney animated flick with the ocean as setting would be fun to watch, and I was not disappointed indeed.

It's actually a popular movie even after two years. There are several official merchandise and movie inspired products, some of which I will link to in this review. I mean, what's not to like with the movie and it's merchandise right?

Read on and find out why I like the movie!


Note: Spoilers ahead.


dwayne_johnson(Screencap by ArtGirl. credit: Subtitled Trailers via YouTube)



♥      The Voice Cast     ♥

Here's three notable voice actors from the movie.

Auliʻi Cravalho plays Moana

A chieftain's free spirited daughter who hears the call of the sea.


Dwayne Johnson plays Maui

The demigod in legends who stole the heart of the goddess Te Fiti. Her heart is a magical stone that glows green.


Rachel House plays Gramma Tala

 She is the paternal grandmother of Moana, also the "village crazy lady".





♥     The Trailer     ♥

(Video credit: Ron_Clements via bitLanders)




♥     Synopsis     ♥

The story begins with a tale of the goddess Te Fiti, one who has the power to create life. Being so powerful, many coveted the stone which is her source of power. One day the demigod Maui was able to successfully steal it. After he stole it, the lava monster Te Kā arose and struck him, making the stone and his magic hook lost at sea. Since then, no one has ever seen or heard of the legendary Maui again. 

moana_movie_review(Screencap by ArtGirl. credit: Walt Disney Animation Studios via YouTube)


This tale was being told by Moana's grandma, Tala. The toddler, together with other kids, listened intently and only Moana seemed to be amazed by the story. Next we see the little girl looking out to the sea. The beauty of it beckons, thus she went to the beach. There she is "greeted" by the ocean like it is a friend. The sea showed her some shells and allowed the child to walk further in on the ocean floor by parting the water. The toddler was also able to touch the legendary powerful stone but then we hear her father calling for her. The island chief of Motunui found his toddler safely back on the beach and took her home.

Next we see her as a teenager who is strong willed and loves the sea. Then we learn of a sickness that seems to be spreading among the island plants. Fish became scarcer too. Because of this, she wants to go further from the island to search for more fish. The chief disagreed on this idea. Moana still tried  to leave once but failed due to a few huge waves she encountered. 

Upon failing, she told her grandma she was going to accept the role of village chief.  But her grandma had another idea. The old lady showed Moana a cave of ships and canoes their people used to sail across the sea. When she discovers it, she goes off and suggests to her dad how they can save the island. While she argued with her father, suddenly her grandma is found sick and eventually passes away.

Even until the old woman's dying breath, she encouraged her grandchild to voyage across the sea and find Maui to return the heart of Te Fiti. And so that's what Moana did after overcoming several trials and challenges.  




♥     ArtGirl's Review     ♥

Finally I was able to finish watching this movie. When I watched the first half of it, I already loved it. However I think I had to go somewhere or I felt like it wasn't the right time to watch it yet so I didn't finish watching it then. Now that this film is included in the bitLanders Film Series to support women empowerment, I finally decided to view the last half.

After finishing the motion picture, I loved it. I've heard good things about this too so it's no wonder I enjoyed it. The ending is heartwarming and makes viewers think of fantastic "what if" scenarios. Ehem... Let's go on ahead with my review shall we?


◙ Characters & Story

Have you ever felt like wanting to save the world? Have you heard the call of the ocean? I have. Somewhere in the deep recesses of my mind and heart, I want to help save the world by saving the seas. I might not be able to do it single-handedly but being able to do any small part is enough for me. Of course I'd like to take on the biggest part if I can but you know, perhaps only heroes can do that.

2016_disney_animation_film(Screencap by ArtGirl. credit: Subtitled Trailers via YouTube)


As a student group activity leader most of my student life, I have learned that one needs to know how to listen, observe and delegate. And yeah we all know the usual cliche, "If you want something done, you have to do everything yourself." That belief would burn you out though if you purely do it on your own. You won't be able to achieve personal or team goals that way.

What does all that have to do with this review? Well the movie reminded me of a certain feeling: wanting to save the world. We all cannot do it alone of course. Even Moana had to ask help from Maui, the sea and her grandma in order to be a heroine. Without them the brave young leader might have failed the dangerous task.

Moana made me cry too. For some reason I found myself crying near the end. Seeing the lava monster get back its heart is something to be happy about right? Maybe I was crying tears of joy? But no... Imagine if your heart was taken from you, would you be happy? In reality, if your heart got broken, wouldn't you be as angry and hurt as Te Kā? Wouldn't you figuratively turn into a fiery lava goddess too and spread hate or destruction?

And then if one day you see a glimmer of hope, that light of the old you, wouldn't you rush to have it back and be happy again? Wouldn't you be grateful to whoever/whatever was able to bring back your heart and happiness? Ah to feel complete and whole again instead of feeling the burden of your loss and pain. Ah sweet freedom.

Going back on the story, if you are not aware, Moana was inspired by Polynesian mythology. That's where the story of Te Fiti and Maui comes from. 

Watch this featurette on how they created this amazing Disney animation. Part of what the Polynesian expert says is true for me. "The ocean gives life to the land" and so it must be preserved and taken cared of!

(Video credit: Walt Disney Animation Studios via YouTube)


Not only is this a fascinating tale of a great people's culture, it is also a reminder that we should take care of nature. That is the best message we can get from it. Watching this also reminded me of our own culture and folk tales too! Polynesia being a group of islands give Moana one more reason why Filipinos can relate to the film. 

Growing up, I enjoyed reading various local folk tales like Biag ni Lam-Ang (Life of Lam-Ang) and the story of a certain Datu or Moro hero I can't remember at the moment. After watching the movie, Moana's story seems to be no different to the Philippine folk stories and myths I grew up with. Our written and preserved oral tales and mythology are as rich as Polynesian ones. There is always a hero who slays monsters or have fantastic abilities one can only dream of.

And so, to all the writers/researchers of this animated film, thank you for bringing this story to life. Not only is it about a young woman finding her place in the world, it is also a story of redemption for Maui. He is the powerful and mischievous but flawed demigod. Even with his presence it still makes the movie endearing to viewers. Why? Well of course if you wish you had magical powers and can relate to the character then you will like him, right?

Not everyone is perfect, certainly not even a demigod. We all get inflated egos at some point in our lives. If you've never felt proud of doing anything and telling the world about it then you might relate to the funny chicken "sidekick" more maybe? Lol.

Another thing I love about the movie is the Kakamora. They have not been well received by Polynesian experts/scholars but it gives Moana a comedic and adventurous break so I'm cool with it. As Moana said, they look so cute, who would even think they're pirates? Haha. I mean, just look at this. Even if they look "mean" they still look like "cuddly" stuffed toys. 

(Screencap by ArtGirl. credit: Walt Disney Animation Studios via YouTube)


It's a funny and lighthearted film even if it can make you cry watching some parts of it. The tale is not petty or simple at all. Upon reading the Wikipedia article it confirmed why the movie is so amazing. There was plenty of research done in order for this film to come about. 

As for Moana, whose name means "ocean", she has a big heart and is clearly inspiring. She's definitely someone people will follow without much doubt. Being the kind and concerned daughter of a chieftain and having a wise "magical" grandma definitely helped too. It somehow makes me envious how everyone in their island seems to love Moana. 

disney_fantasy_movie(Screencap by ArtGirl. credit: Walt Disney Animation Studios via YouTube)


Watching Moana reminds me of another self-diagnosed behavior: I might have some kind of savior complex. Perhaps I inherited it from my parents, but will I be able to do something big because of it? Who knows? We'll see what happens in the future.

As for the storyline, I like how they also show how being "the chosen one" can be a burden whenever one encounters setbacks. I mean, who wouldn't want to back out of such a difficult task? Try to almost single-handedly save your family, people and an entire island from an invisible force and imminent death and let's see if you won't try to back out of it at some point. It's good Moana did not give up on her quest, otherwise all her efforts would have been for naught. She would probably not have a better island home to return to if she failed too.

Anyway I'm sure you agree, the story and characters are well thought out. Maybe because I like it so much I am biased, haha. It makes me want to know more about the Polynesian culture too. 


(Screencap by ArtGirl. credit: Walt Disney Animation Studios via YouTube)


There's no doubt, this movie is the best animated film to inspire and empower girls and women all over the world. It may have fantasy and magical elements in it but still there are various gems of dialogue one can appreciate to help empower women in real life. There's even no love story angle anywhere which is a relief. Haha. We don't always need to see romantic stories in movies you know.

Aside from everything I've written above, the entirety of it speaks total women empowerment, no further explanations needed. Just watch it and you'll know what I'm talking about.

Want a bit of trivia? Did you know the directors of Moana also did 6 other popular mythology/folklore inspired Disney animated films? No wonder Moana is such a hit!

I'm sure Polynesians love it too. Even if the cultural critics don't really like it, I still like the story. Maybe I won't like it too if Hollywood people jumbled Philippine folklore and mythology but that is a blog for another day. All I can say is: If Hercules did it for the boys, Moana does it for the girls! Go girl power!!!





◙ Voice Acting and Singing

Playing the lead voice actress is newcomer Auli‘i Cravalho, the very last girl the casting director saw during the voice casting. At the time, she was a 14 yr old teenager and is a native of Hawaii. Even if she is new to voice acting she does an impressive job of bringing Moana to life. I'm sure she had the best direction too in order to be Moana. Plus, being part of her school's glee club means she really can sing well. Kudos to her!

Another thing I found surprising is Dwayne Johnson singing. Hmmm. I dunno, of course people can sing when given the opportunity but I just didn't think he could sing. Haha. He also has some similarities with the character he voiced: they are both muscular and tattoed. As Maui, I think the actor did a good job in bringing him to life.

polynesian_disney_princess(Screencap by ArtGirl. credit: Walt Disney Animation Studios via YouTube)


Did you also know the voice cast is mostly composed of people with Polynesian blood?

Dwayne is partly Samoan. Nicole Scherzinger plays Moana's mother and also gets to sing here. What's good to know is she is of Filipino and Hawaiian descent. Cool right? Haha. This makes it a very fitting movie to showcase the Polynesian culture indeed.

Everyone did a good job making the film come alive using their voices. 



◙ Animation & Music

As for the 3D animation, it looks flawless. I love how everything looks. It takes a lot of time to make these of course and the level of dedication to detail is commendable. It makes me envious actually because I'd love to use what they're using but I'd have to take art seriously if I get any of it.

Look, they use large tablet computers! Whoa!  And here I was just wanting to get a small one? Oh my.


(Screencap by ArtGirl. credit: Flicks And The City via YouTube)


As for the animated people, well it's not everyday you see everyone who's brown skinned as stars in any Hollywood movie, right? Being a Filipino or Polynesian should mean loving how beautiful brown skin can be. Nevermind if in real life there are brown women who use and are sold whitening products. There are still those who are proud to be kayumanggi (brown) which is an admirable trait. That's another plus point on women empowerment for me. Watching Moana encourages women to care more about the environment and the people's welfare.

Also their depiction of the ocean and the foliage and everything actually looks wonderful. The water looks as real as can be. I like how they made the sea have character too.

ocean_related_animated_movie(Screencap by ArtGirl. credit: Walt Disney Animation Studios via YouTube)


Even if they did not actually try to make a human representation out of the water, I still love how natural it looks. Now that I think about it, the salt water being reminds me of Flubber. Lol.

And the music, ah yes, I love several songs from the soundtrack. They're so much better than Frozen's songs in terms of the message and lyrics. How Far I'll Go is so spot on for me. We Know The Way is also fantastic even though I don't understand the non-English words. There's one or two songs I don't like but it's all good. Those do not affect the movie negatively in any way.


◙ Rating

No need to break down the scores per category this time. Without hesitation, I give this movie a perfect 10 out of 10 stars!

If you love folklore, fantasy, the sea, traveling and going on adventures (even if only in your minds too), then you'll definitely love Moana.  

movies_involving_water(Screencap by ArtGirl. credit: Walt Disney Animation Studios via YouTube)


What did you think of the movie? Feel free to share in the comments. :)




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