MOANA Movie Review: Empowered Young Girl from the Island of Motonui

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Image Credits: JustAGirl via Screenshot from the movie

Can you think of the times Disney Films featured a fairy tale story not involving a damsel-in-distress? More often than not, we are shown women figures as symbol of beauty, albeit in need of a knight-in-shining-armor to rescue them. But not in the case of the Polynesian culture-inspired, Disney animated musical entitled Moana. Most definitely, this movie tackles on women empowerment, and so I opt to have this as my first movie review for the new batch of BitLanders Film Series.

Unlike my previous entries, I would strive harder to keep my review as compelling, without giving out too much spoilers. I had been reading at least four of my past movie reviews, and to my disappointment, it felt like I have narrated the entire story to everyone’s knowledge, even covering the important twists.

 And so, as a new routine, I would skip the lengthy movie summaries or synopses, and would proceed to the elements of the movie. I would still include the plot, of course, to give readers a glimpse of the story. But this would be like an elementary format of a short story.


Video Credits: Ron Clements via BitLanders

The Setting

The story of Moana takes place in the Polynesian island of Motunui, where its inhabitants worship a goddess named Te Fiti. The island is surrounded by deep vast of oceans. Somewhere far from it, across and beyond the reefs, there exist some other locations including the isolated island where Maui was stranded, and the Lalotai which is known as the Realm of Monsters.

Also, another island far from Motunui exists, which is owned by the goddess Te Fiti, and so is named after her. This is where Moana ventures to return the pounamu stone, Te Fiti’s heart, and save her island from engulfing darkness.

The Characters

Listed below are the primary characters mentioned in the movie.

·        ◙ Moana (Auliʻi Cravalho) – The daughter of Motunui’s chieftain, she refuses to classify herself as a princess. At one instance, Maui identifies her as a princess, with her dress and animal sidekick, to which she angrily negates. She is in line to ascend as the village chieftain however is confronted by her true calling to sail into the oceans. Towards the end of the movie, it will be revealed what Moana chose to become.

·       ◙ Maui (Dwayne Johnson) – The shapeshifting demigod, he stole the heart of Te Fiti to give humanity the power to create forms of nature. Moana sets sail to seize him to return the heart to restore the island of Motunui from blight. In the middle of the story, it is revealed that Maui got rejected by his human parents into the oceans when he was a kid. The gods found him and got fond of him, giving Maui his powerful fish hook which gives him the ability to shift shapes and change forms.

Image Credits: JustAGirl via Screenshot from the movie

·        ◙ Tala (Rachel House) – Moana’s paternal grandmother, she is considered by the village as a crazy woman. She shares the same passion for the ocean like Moana, dancing around the waters. She is the one who encouraged Moana to pursue her true calling. In the movie, she took form of magical manta ray when Moana lost hope of fulfilling her duty of restoring Te Fiti’s heart.

·        ◙ Tui (Temuera Morrison/Christopher Jackson) – Moana’s father, he is the village Chieftain. He forbids Moana to sail across the oceans beyond the reefs in the fear of losing her like his old friend who died in the ocean. He entrusts the position of next chieftain to his daughter.

·        ◙ Sina (Nicole Scherzinger) – Moana’s mother, she is concerned of her daughter’s safety but later supported Moana to fulfil her calling.

·        ◙ Tamatoa (Jemaine Clement) – The giant coconut crab, he is the king of the Realm of Monsters. He is greedy of collecting treasures that shine. He is egocentric, having been distracted by Moana to sing about himself when they ventured to redeem Maui’s lost fish hook.

·        ◙ Heihei (Alan Tudyk) – Moana’s pet, he is a dimwit rooster who accidentally went with Moana on her journey across the ocean to find Maui.

The Conflict

Image Credits: JustAGirl via Screenshot from the movie

(1) Man vs. Himself

In the movie, Moana struggles to decide what to become. Will she stay in the island of Motunui and be their next chieftain? Or will she follow her heart’s true calling and sail across the oceans, beyond the reefs, and restore Te Fiti’s stolen heart?

(2) Man vs. Man

Aside from her inner conflict, Moana battled a couple of obstacles on her journey to fulfilling her duty to return Te Fiti’s heart. Firstly, she struggled to defy her father’s will to keep her away from the oceans. Then, she also had a hard time convincing Maui to board her camakau and accompany her to Te Fiti’s island. But both of these she was able to overcome.

(3) Man vs. Nature

Moana also fought several magical creatures on her way. She and Maui outwitted Tamatoa in the Realm of Monsters to get back the latter’s lost fish hook. Earlier, they also encountered coconut pirates called Kakamora. Their greatest battle included of the volcanic monster named Te Kā, guarding around Te Fiti’s island. Later on, it was revealed that Te Kā is the goddess Te Fiti, without pounamu, her heart.

The Plot

In the beginning, there was only ocean. Then the mother island, Te Fiti, emerged and brought life through her heart’s power. Many began seeking her heart, thinking it will make them powerful.

One day, a demigod of the wind and sea, named Maui, able to shift shapes and change forms, stole the heart of Te Fiti. Without her heart, Te Fiti began to crumble and gave birth to an utter darkness. As he was about to escape, the demon of earth and fire, Te Kā, seized after him to take the heart. He struck Maui with a blow, making the latter lost into the vast depths of the sea, together with his fish hook and Te Fiti’s heart.

Image Credits: JustAGirl via Screenshot from the movie

This is how Tala narrated the tale of Te Fiti to the village kids, including Moana.

At a very early age, Moana had been interested of the tale, drawn into the beauty of the oceans. She was chosen by it to restore the heart of Te Fiti, but was taken away by her father, Tui. Both her parents have tried to keep her away from the sailing into the sea as time passed by. She was instead prepared by Tui to ascend into the position as the next village chieftain.

Years later, one day, the village people discovered blight struck their island. Coconuts are rotting, and no fish can be caught anywhere the ocean. Moana, almost already accepted her fate of being the next chieftain, suggested they go beyond the reefs in the hopes of catching fish in there. However, Tui angrily declined, emphasizing the danger imposed by going beyond the reefs.

At night, Moana dared to sail by herself but was confronted by the wild tides of the oceans. She returned home shipwrecked, finding her grandmother, Tala, on the shore. Seeing her disheartened, Tala encouraged her to know and follow what is on her heart. She accompanied her to a secret cave where several ships were hidden.

In the cave, Moana discovered their past, their people being voyagers. Tala then revealed what really happened back then, stating that Te Fiti losing her heart resulted to poisoning of the island which made the people stopped from voyaging. But it could be cured by Maui returning the heart, which she handed over to Moana.

The same night Tala fell ill and died shortly after telling Moana her last message. She decided to follow her true calling to sail into the oceans. She went to the secret cave and boarded one of the camakau into where Maui could be found.

On her way, she was caught in a strong typhoon, was overpowered, and was shipwrecked into an island where Maui was stranded. Maui tricked her by singing about himself until he got Moana inside a cave and entrapped her, stealing her camakau to sail away from the island. He needed the camakau because he can do anything but swim.

Image Credits: JustAGirl via Screenshot from the movie

As he was about to get away, Moana got out of the cave into the camakau with the help of the ocean. She tried convincing him to return the heart of Te Fiti but Maui declined. On their way on the ocean, they came across a battalion of coconut pirates, Kakamora, who were also after the heart. They were able to outwit them, securing the heart.

Moana then tried convincing Maui again to come with her by pointing out that doing so would mean heroism to the people of Motunui. He finally agreed but needed to redeem his fish hook first which was lost into the Realm of Monsters called Lalotai.

In Lalotai, they were greeted by the giant coconut crab named Tamatoa. Moana was able to outwit him by using a fake heart of Te Fiti. Soon they arrived at Te Fiti’s island and was encountered by the volcanic monster, Te Kā.

Image Credits: JustAGirl via Screenshot from the movie

Maui restricted Moana from turning the camakau around to get past the monster but Moana disobeyed. Maui had to rescue them using his fish hook which was badly hit by Te Kā. Fearing that he might forever lose his hook, and therefore his power, Maui angrily abandoned Moana.

Tearful, Moana lost hope, confronting the ocean why it chose her, and to just chose somebody else because she failed. The ocean obliged and took the heart and dropped it into its depths. Then, a glowing manta ray approached her camakau and turned into her grandmother. Tala comforted her and reminded her why she was chosen by the ocean.

Moana seemed to have awaken from a dream and regained her composure. She dived for the heart and decided she would return Te Fiti’s heart by herself. She ventured into the island and battled against Te Kā.

Just in time, Maui arrived with a changed heart and distracted the monster making Moana reached across the island. From there she discovered Te Fiti was missing. Shortly after, she realized that the demon, Te Kā, was Te Fiti herself without her heart.

Moana commanded the oceans to clear a path for Te Kā to come to her. As the monster was about to attack her, Moana sang about the monster’s true identity, emphasizing being a monster was not really who Te Kā was. She then placed the heart to the spiral across the chest of the monster. Shortly after, the monster changed form and turned back into Te Fiti.

Image Credits: JustAGirl via Screenshot from the movie

They were both greeted by the goddess and bowed. Maui apologized and was gifted another fish hook. They bode farewell to each other, as Moana headed back home to the island of Motunui to claim her position as the new chieftain and wayfinder. She led her people to voyage.

The Theme

(1) Women Empowerment

Many Disney films feature women empowerment as topic of discussion, but Moana differs in the fact that she does not need a knight-in-shining-armor. I know, I hope you won’t get me wrong. I do not see involvement of man in a woman’s story as a negative thing or a weakness. It is just one of those things I loved about the movie that it successfully deflected from the normal perception of a Disney film.

Moana is a brave and independent young woman, who, at a very young age, is able to lead their entire village into critical and intelligent decisions. Remember her approach when the village women came to them and told them about the rotting condition of their coconuts? Indeed, Moana is a face of an empowered woman.


"Do you support women's empowerment?"

(2) Being true to yourself and following your heart

Moana’s greatest battle was probably not with Te Kā, but with herself. Majority of the events in the movie featured Moana’s true passion, that is not within the village but out onto the oceans. She wants to sail across and beyond the reefs, but she is torn between it and being a future leader of their village.

Moana, having compassion towards her fellowmen, had a harder time deciding what to become. She was also forbidden by her father to pursue what she wants, something she does not want to disobey. But later on the movie, being true to herself and following what her heart is telling her still won over all these hindrances. Her father also learned to fully trust her desire to voyage.

(3) Self-acceptance

This is pretty similar to Moana’s case, but self-acceptance is more geared towards the other primary character, Maui. Of his life, he thought that he has not use, not without his magical fish hook. Having been rejected by his human parents brought him this doubt of himself.

However, later on, during his journey with Moana, Maui learns to accept who he is. That he is Maui, with or without the fish hook. And that he has a lot to do as Maui himself.


Image Credits: JustAGirl via Screenshot from the movie


Overall, I’d say I really enjoyed watching the film as it is fresh and entertaining. To be honest, I am not into Disney films, and I can only recount very few of its movies that I genuinely liked. Needless to say, Moana is a great film and a highly recommended one, although I doubt if there are still many who have not watched it yet. Anyway, how about you, what kind of movies do you prefer?

"What kind of movies do you like?"

(1) Direction, Screenplay and Cinematography

I would be shocked to discover if there will be someone who will say that Moana does not have beautiful visual effects. From the animation of the characters up to that of the oceans and islands, the movie is indeed so pleasant in the eyes.

The story itself is excellently crafted. The dialogues, inner monologues and the powerful message are all breathtaking.


Image Credits: JustAGirl via Screenshot from the movie

(2) Musical score, Soundtrack, and Voice Casting

One thing about Moana that got really very popular is its music. Auliʻi Cravalho’s How Far I’ll Go, which is Moana’s musical monologue about her intricacy, has been a constant YouTube search, hitting millions of views. And who would’ve thought Dwayne Johnson, popularly known as The Rock, can sing and rap? In an interview he even mentioned how his kid’s mates made him sing You’re Welcome.

(3) Overall Rating

I don’t usually rate movies most especially those that I see on a normal basis, and not for the purpose of creating a movie review. But Moana is really a beautiful movie with a very powerful message, a strong-willed and empowered female lead character, and a bunch of great soundtracks. This movie is perfect for the kids and the adults since it has a comedic tone in it too.


Image Credits: JustAGirl via Screenshot from the movie


Aside from this movie review, if you are interested to further read and watch about Moana, you may check the links below.

Film Review: 'Moana' by Peter Debruge of Variety

Review: ‘Moana,’ Brave Princess on a Voyage With a Chicken by A.O. Scott of NY Times

Pokematic Reviews Moana, Podcast by Pokematic of BitLanders (Movie)

Here is another movie review video made by Manny the Movie Guy about two years ago.

Video Credits: Manny the Movie Guy via BitLanders



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