I’m writing this brief note to call the attention to an exciting new piece of criticism about the recent Disney animated film Moana. The movie’s Pacific Islands subject matter is no doubt of interest to many readers of The Inertia, not to mention their children. The film has been widely praised for its powerful animation and inspiring young girl power heroine, and it has been criticized for, among other things, a clownishly stereotyped male lead and a careless tendency to blend different Pacific Island myths and traditions. Unfortunately, in one crucial area, the movie gets things even more flagrantly wrong.
In a taut posting for the excellent Bright Lights Film Journal, Edward Stanton examines the story’s central narrative, that the demigod Maui has made off with the heart of the “mother island” and in the process inadvertently unleashed a spreading darkness that decimates trees, crops, and the fish population. Moana, the plucky daughter of the chief of Motunui (near Rapa Nui), braves taboos forbidding the crossing of the reef, sets sail and enlists Maui’s aid to make things right. Adventures involving monsters and a typically goofy, Disney animal pal ensue until the island people rediscover their long-forgotten outriggers and their vocation as great ocean mariners and discoverers.
Fine cartoon fare, but the film errs in its presentation of the real cause of the kind of Polynesian ecological nightmare that prompts Moana’s action. In fact, on Rapa Nui and other islands, argues Stanton, “people, not gods, were the cause of environmental devastation.” Stanton’s provocative piece argues convincingly that this charming little film would have been even better if it had honestly faced certain South Pacific historical facts concerning human responsibility and ecological disaster. But maybe that might be too much truth for a 2016 American audience in a country willing to give power to a president and party who publically scorn any suggestion of such responsibility.
Read the article here.