A part of the narrative: Disney’s Moana and the power of storytelling
The new film by John Musker and Ron Clements is a moving parable about the importance of celebrating the past through stories
As the daughter of the village chief, Moana has a duty to her people and their fearful respect for the ocean. But the wild call of the sea is too strong, and demands the attention of the young leader. Chosen by an ancient prophecy as Savior against a dark curse, Moana must find the demigod Maui and help him restore the stolen heart of her land.
Disney’s latest is also their best fairy tale in a while. While far from the traditional fables developed by the company (there is no love interest, no real villain), Moana incarnates the primordial aspects of fairy tales, of myths and legends told by villagers around campfires since the dawn of time. It’s a genesis story about loyalty to one’s own heritage, seen as a treasure that must be protected as sacred and yet revisited and reshaped. The past is a fixed and starting point to build something new, not a dead burden that paralyzes any kind of improvement. Moana embodies the will to explore, know and cherish this past as priceless knowledge that inspires and teaches us to bring positive change.
The key aspect of Moana is narration itself. Telling stories and listening to stories, told by wise and unique grandmothers, ancestors and deities. Stories that teach us who we are, where we’ve been, so that we can move forward.
Moana is at the center of this narrative, she’s both listener and bearer of stories, and the link to her past, and the past of her people, is what propels her towards the future. Every character has a story to tell, from the humble villagers to otherworldly crab-like gods, and every story needs to be heard, each is a piece of the complex tapestry interwoven to create the History of a people.
Boasting an incredible song score from Tony, Emmy, Grammy and Pulitzer Prize winner Lin-Manuel Miranda (of In the Heights and Hamilton fame), the storytelling in the movie is shaped around music and colorful, warmly lit images that harmonize perfectly together, like in the splendidly evocative number “We Know The Way”, featuring Moana learning the stories of her “elders in a never ending chain” (as the song goes) of knowledge, wisdom and cultural recognition.
Like Eliza and abuela Claudia, Miranda’s heroines from his Tony-winning musicals, Moana is the keeper of memories, the fire that moves story and History.
Disney is at its best when a combination of ethics and entertainment is fluently mixed together, and while being deliciously entertaining, Moana teaches a lesson that is as valuable as it is often forgotten, now more than ever: the stories of those that came before us teach us how to carry on and avoid a darkness that lurks at every turn of History.
Director: Ron Clements, John Musker, Don Hall (co-director-), Chris Williams (co-director)
Writer: Jared Bush
Cast (voices): Auli’i Cravalho (Vaiana), Dwayne Johnson (Maui), Rachel House (Gramma Tala), Temuera Morrison (Chief Tui), Jemaine Clement (Tamatoa), Nicole Scherzinger (Sina), Alan Tudyk (Heihei), Louise Bush (toddler Vaiana)