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Our daughter is obsessed with Disney’s Moana, or ‘Nana’ as she likes to calls her. Why? It’s probably the catchy songs ⏤ she chimes in to say “You’re Welcome” in sync with Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s Maui ⏤ or maybe the bright colors or definitely the fact that we’ve allowed this addiction to fester. We have purchased the bedding, the figurines, the stuffed pig, and we’re currently trying to book a Moana cosplayer for her second birthday in a few months. Lord help us all when this movie leaves Netflix.
Surely after two-a-days of Moana all summer, we must be sick of it, right? Normally, I would say yes. We can’t stand most popular children’s programming (Mickey Mouse Clubhouse makes me want to bash my head into a wall) and we make fun of adults who go on Disney vacations without kids (seriously, it’s weird). But still, we haven’t gotten tired of Nana, at least not after the first hundred viewings. And there are five reasons why:
1. There is no romantic subplot.
Moana’s relationship with the demigod Maui is strictly business; she needs his godlike powers to complete her quest. Sure, they become friends by the end, but there are no weird teenage romantic “prince and princess” subplot bulls&*t. This shows my daughter that men and women can be strictly friends, when most other dramas, comedies, and movies spend hours pairing off their characters and creating relationship drama.
2. Moana thinks critically about the rules and breaks them because they don’t make sense.
Initially, she is forbidden to sail beyond the calm waters of her island’s barrier reef (as is everyone in her village). As she prepares to come of age and take her place as the village chief, she is presented with a question: what to do when there’s no more fish to be caught? Moana questions the assumptions (“nobody goes beyond the reef!”) and complains that the context of the rules in place don’t fit with their current situation.
She boldly proposes going beyond the reef ⏤ where there must be more fish ⏤ to the furious dismay of her father. This encourages my daughter to think at a deeper level about authority and its priorities; who is in charge? What is their goal? What was the context of that rule being made? Granted, it’s a little bit of a stretch for her right now, but it’s not too early to support her progressive, Leslie Knope side. But seriously: the island is a paradise and nobody leaves. Why would they? But Moana is called to adventure and yearns to leave. Of course, she does ⏤ her name means ‘ocean’ in Hawaiian, and yet she’s stuck on her island.
3. Moana is a brave problem-solver.
When her first attempt to sail beyond the reef doesn’t go well, she resigns herself to a life stuck on the island. But the call of the ocean’s boundless horizon is too strong, and she uses the death of her grandmother as cover to escape and go off in search of Maui. She’s proudly a self-taught sailor and has the chutzpah to grab Maui by the ear and demand that he help with her quest. Later, it’s Moana who quickly creates a diversion so that she and Maui can escape from the clutches of a humongous crab when his magical fish hook doesn’t work as expected. When Maui suffers a crisis of faith and abandons her later on, Moana proceeds in pursuit of her objective, rejecting the idea that she needs his help after realizing how she’s already sailed farther than anyone else in her village.
4. Grandma’s reprise is a classic Jedi Ghost apparition.
Seriously, it’s hard to capture this moment in words. This part of the film (“I am Moana”) still moves me to manly tears. It’s a classic “Obi-Wan’s ghost appearing to Luke Skywalker” moment straight out of Empire Strikes Back (or Yoda’s ghost appearing to Luke in The Last Jedi), and it’s purely awesome. This might be my favorite part of the film, honestly. The soundtrack swells and Moana dives in head-first to keep going when things seem grim. This shows my kid that even though the world may seem like it’s against her, being who she is is enough.
Moana takes her knowledge back to the village and teaches the men. Along her journey, Moana discovers the ancient wayfinding techniques which allowed her people to navigate all over the Pacific. Her hard-earned knowledge makes her uniquely qualified to teach others, and we’re left with Moana showing her father how to sail out on the open ocean ⏤ after he previously insisted it was too dangerous to be done She helps others to grow by teaching and in doing so, restores her people to their potential as voyagers.
5. Its plot is classic “The Hero’s Journey” in a way that empowers girls.
What we need now more than ever is a generation of brave, strong women to confront the status quo and create a better world. I’m trying hard to raise one of those women, and if Moana is any help in that task ⏤ and she is ⏤ then I’ll gladly settle in for another hundred viewings.
Tyler Kirk is the father of a sassy toddler and husband of a special-education teacher. He hopes to one day write enough woke reviews of Disney movies to feel like he has “utilized” his Philosophy degrees.
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