Featured image of post _Moana_
Episode 28


Film poster for
Ron Clements, John Musker, Don Hall
Auli'i Cravalho(voice), Dwayne Johnson(voice), Rachel House(voice)
14 November 2016

Discussion about environmental themes in the 2016 Disney film, Moana. Directed by Ron Clements and John Musker.

You may want to watch the film first and think about:

  • How does the movie make you feel about the ocean? How does it give you that feeling?
  • Who, if anyone, is the villain of the movie?

What the film did well

Accurate depiction of ecology and geology

  • Employed biologist to guide animators while researching polynesian islands
  • Tamatoa - decorator crab - normally attaches things to shell as camouflage, but uses the behaviour to catch fish
  • Magical without as much exaggeration or fantasy as might be expected in an animated Disney film

Representing different cultures and ‘ways of knowing’

  • Localized into: Tahitian, Maori, Hawaiian

  • Established Oceanic story trust involving historians, storytellers, craftsmen, navigators etc. to take part in development of the script and visuals

    • Disney Examiner article
    • Tamaira, Marata & Fonoti, Dionne. (2018). Beyond Paradise? Retelling Pacific Stories in Disney’s Moana. The Contemporary Pacific. 30. 297-327. 10.1353/cp.2018.0029.
  • ‘Traditional’ skills - navigation by stars, reading weather and water currents.

  • Ocean as connector instead of barrier

    • In Western/European views water is often a barrier to be challenged and crossed
  • Return of Heart of Tefiti as a metaphor for voyaging to new islands as something central to their culture?

    • Balances population around islands, less resource pressure

Use of resources

  • First introduced to problems with coconut groves and poor fishing Moana suggests measures for sustainable food production

  • Crop rotation is common practice

    • balances use of nutrients in soil
    • Pathogens which attack specific plants can build up in soil if same crop is grown year-after-year
  • Rotating fishing areas to allow populations to recover

  • Non-magical reasons why resources may be diminishing?

    • Thrived on island for centuries - soil in easily farmed areas may be depleted
    • Dependence on single crop may be allowing pathogen to spread
    • Larger population, fishing pressure might be too high

Managing risk

  • Father’s understandable response to tragic event early in life leads to extreme risk aversion

    • Moana never learns to sail and ends up in greater risk because she has not learned how to manage the dangers in sailing.
    • Does nothing to curb Moana’s desire to explore the ocean, but deprives her of the skills needed to do so safely
  • Ocean is very hands-off

    • Other than when responding to Maui, the Ocean does not directly intervene
    • Possibly intervenes in extreme risk - Moana being knocked out in the storm
    • Allows Moana to learn how to sail on her own rather than propelling Moana to her goals

The magic of the Ocean

  • Not reliant on abundance of coral reefs to create the desire to explore
  • The way characters relate to the ocean transmits the love of it
  • Even in the Land of Monsters, part of what makes the scene magical is the perspective on the ocean
  • The ocean’s draw comes from the vast size, horizon, peace, danger

Where the film missed the mark

Perspective is very human-centric

  • Presents care of the environment as being for the benefit of humans
  • Care of nature could have been for its own sake

Focus on expansion

  • Hesitant about whether the world can support moving to new islands forever
  • Surely there are only so many islands Maui can pull from the ocean

Other thoughts

Gaia hypothesis

Living things depend on and interact with inorganic parts of the environment, creating a self regulating system. This is similar to the way in which predator-prey relationships form self-regulating systems.

Gaia hypothesis - Wikipedia.

  • The ocean represents the inorganic parts of the ecosystem, nudging humans restore balance by returning the Heart

Share your ideas about the movie with us! Get in touch.

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