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The Strange Message in Disney's Moana

That Might Be My Favorite

By David BrandyPublished 2 years ago 7 min read
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I Will Let You Give Up.

That message doesn't seem like it would be associated with a Disney movie. It's a little too sad and maybe even dark or defeating. The line seems too real, like something a distant teacher or parent would confer. Still, though, I hear it loud and clear from one of the characters in the hit film Moana.

Which character?

Just kidding! Although Heihei is one of my son's favorite characters in the film. My kids are the excuse I am going to use if someone is asking why this 29-year-old is watching Disney movies. My other excuse is clearly Lin-Manuel Miranda <3

Where was I? Oh yes, the big reveal!

The Ocean!!

Please don't click away...

I noticed a few strange details in The Ocean's behavior after seeing this film so many times with my kids. The first time I noticed this unusual message is right after Maui abandons Moana on the island. You know the scene. Moana had to sail towards the hook-shaped constellation on her canoe, the whole time The Ocean did its best to keep Moana awake. More on The Ocean keeping Moana awake later.

After beaching her canoe on Maui's island, he sings "You're Welcome" and I have it stuck in my head for the rest of the day. Then he traps her in a cave and sails off with her canoe. After a daring leap off a giant falling Maui statue and climbing out of the top of the cave, Moana runs and leaps off of the cliff in an attempt to land on her canoe and take it back from Maui.

Only she falls short and lands in the water. This is it, this is the first moment I noticed. Something strange happens in these few seconds... She hesitates.

She looks back at the island... The thought that maybe she should just give up and stay on the island goes through her mind. The Ocean doesn't yank her away from this thought process. No, it lets her look back and think for a moment that maybe, just maybe, she should at least take a nap or find some food.

It isn't until she decides that her mission is more important and starts to swim towards the canoe that The Ocean picks her up and pulls her through the water. It lets her make the first move. The Ocean doesn't seem to want an unwilling assistant, it wants someone who will push their fears away and get the job done.

Once she is back on the canoe, Maui isn't exactly welcoming. He knocks her off the boat multiple times in a scene that almost always gets a laugh out of my kids. If I had to guess, based on how The Ocean brings her back, she wants to be back on that canoe.

This mission forward focus is extended to Maui as well as we can see when he attempts to leave and he is smashed back down onto the canoe. It's extended to the entire mission of restoring The heart of Te Fiti. Remember when I said that we will come back to the part where The Ocean kept Moana awake? How about when Maui throws the heart into the depths? It always helps in the way necessary to the mission... but that brings me to a different scene where the heart goes into The Ocean.

Choose Someone Else, Please...

This scene always gets me teared up. Right after Maui loses his fight with Teka, they are sent out onto the ocean. Far away from Teka, Maui reveals that the fight had badly damaged his hook. The hook that makes him, well, him is now one hit away from being destroyed. With too much on the line… he abandons Moana by flying away…

His words tear Moana down. They break her spirit. Maybe The Ocean did choose wrong. She suddenly is less sure of herself and begs to not have this burden to bear. The doubts take root until, she gives up too, and reluctantly… The Ocean lets her… "Choose someone else."

And that's it... The heart is returned to the depths. Moana is free of her mission and she can return to the island of Motunui. She can go back to her parents and follow the rules and wait for the curse to reach Motunui. The scene is quiet, except for Moana's light sobbing...

Then there is a glow, someone is coming, someone who gets it. Grandma. She seems to put words to The Ocean's wordless messages. After Moana admits that she wasn't able to do it, she says, "If you are ready to go home, I will be with you."

Let's pause for a sec here, cause Grandma truly gets it. She has another line, early in the movie, that spells it out. Remember the first time Moana tries to sail? When the waves capsize her canoe and she nearly drowns? Grandma is the one to find the wreckage washed up onshore. She even says that Moana should blame whatever happened on the pig.

What happens next? Moana decides that she isn't going to answer the call inside her to sail. She will instead go and put her stone on the mountain and fulfill everything her father wants her to be, to stay on Montunui. Moana even turns to walk away, but then she stops and turns back to Grandma who has walked into the water.

"Why aren't you trying to talk me out of it?" Moana asks.

"You said that's what you wanted," Grandma responds as she plays in the stingray circle that has gathered around her. Moana starts to walk back to the mountain again, then Grandma speaks up, talking about how she wants to come back as a stingray when she dies. She doesn't want to have chosen the wrong tattoo.

When Moana points out that she is being weird Grandma says, "I'm the village crazy lady, that's my job."

"If there is something you want to tell me, just tell me," Replies Moana, slightly confused, "Is there something you want to tell me?"

Turning back to Moana with I smile, she asks, "Is there something you want to hear?"

That is when she shows Moana Montunui's boats and their history of voyaging. There is always a choice for Moana, and when Moana has given up, there is even a choice for Maui. Will she be brave? Will she continue forward even if Maui abandons her?

When Moana dives into the water to retrieve the heart again, it always gets me. Grandma's ghost has reminded Moana of who she is, and her resolve returns. She dives headfirst into The Ocean, and unassisted, she swims to the bottom to grab the glowing heart. It is such a powerful moment, her ancestors all around her, the music swells, she hoists the heart into the air and silence...

No spirits of her ancestors, no music, just Moana and her mission. This leaves one question, why? Why does The Ocean need someone who will continue on of their own accord? Someone who will always have the choice to return, and sometimes even will take it for a moment? Because it takes someone who won't give up, even when it's terrifying, even when it's hopeless, to do this;

The Final Fight

Do you have chills too? Just me? Well, maybe I can change that. Do you remember that Moana sails up to the final battle alone? She shows up to face a giant lava monster by herself. Not a demigod, just a single person, a chicken, and a glowing rock on a canoe. Moana has more guts in her pinky than most of us have in our whole bodies.

She holds her own too, at least for a little while. Eventually, Teka gets the upper hand and it doesn't look great for Moana. Just before the glowing hot hand of Teka grabs her like a toddler and their toy, Maui (literally)swoops in. Maui buys her some time by shapeshifting into various animals, including "shark head."

Moana is so close, she is about to crest the ridge leading to Te Fiti. She is just about to return the heart and complete her mission when there is a giant explosion. Maui's hook is destroyed and instead of running away, he sees that Moana needs some more time and he calls out to Teka and prepares to die.

It's just enough time for Moana to realize that Teka is Te Fiti. That the spiral that she is looking for is in the chest of the giant lava monster. She raises the glowing heart into the air and quickly gets the attention of Teka. She then calmly walks toward the monster, even asking The Ocean to let Teka come to her.

Then Moana sings as she walks through a parted ocean toward something truly terrifying.

"This is not who you are," sings Moana, "You know who you are."

It is then, and only then that Moana is able to return the heart. The hard shell of Teka crumbles away and Te Fiti emerges. The curse is broken, Maui gets his hook back, and Moana returns to her island as a hero. It is a fantastic ending to a fantastic movie but it leaves an unasked question.

What Is Letting You Give Up?

Is there something in your life that is giving you the option of quitting? Is there a project or a new life chapter that you know you want or should do, but it will let you quit? What do I mean by this?

Tim Urban did an amazing TED Talk on the subject of procrastination. He talked about how projects with deadlines(School papers, Work projects, etc.) can be procrastinated because the deadline will keep you in check. The "Panic Monster" will be awoken and he will make sure you get the work done because you don't want to fail the class or lose your job.

It's the things that don't have deadlines that will "let you give up" because you can simply just not do them. There is no one hounding you to start that business or book or visit a parent. There are things in life that seem to have no deadline, but they do. We only have so many days on this planet, so what is your lava monster, and are you ready to face it?

Tim Urban: Inside the mind of a master procrastinator | TED

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About the Creator

David Brandy

My very first story crafting was an imaginary game that me and my two younger brothers would play when I was 12. My love of storytelling manifested itself quickly. Today I am a husband, father, and business owner.

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  • Joe O’Connor4 months ago

    I’ve never thought about Moana and the role of the Ocean in that way before! Subtle, but I like the way you explain its impact throughout the film. And that last paragraph about us giving up on projects because there’s nothing to stop us- so true. Here’s to completing them!

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