Moana Movie Review-Is it Appropriate for Young Children?

Moana and Maui photo by Disney

Moana and Maui photo by Disney

“Moana” is a coming-of-age story of a girl from a South Pacific island called Motunui. She is the daughter of her village’s chief. She is chosen by the ocean (and guided by her grandmother) to return the green stone heart of Te Fiti, an island goddess. One thousand years ago the demi-god Maui stole the heart, which gives birth to life itself, for his people but instead spread darkness. The island goddess becomes a lava monster. It is up to the modern-day Maui and Moana to return the stone heart after the fish disappear from her island, and coconuts are found spoiled.

My 7-year-old daughter and I both enjoyed “Moana,” though she didn’t like the scenes with the lava monster, which looks like it belongs in Middle Earth (the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings world). As a marine biologist I was disappointed that there were not more marine animals depicted in the movie. I was very happy that one of my favorite animals, the manta ray, has a prominent role.

Moana’s sidekicks are decidedly terrestrial, a piglet and a dumb but comical rooster. It’s true that the open ocean is often called a “biological desert,” but it would have been nice if Disney could have celebrated the diverse life that does live in the ocean. I was hopeful after the scene with a toddler Moana in which she helps a baby sea turtle make it to the ocean, and she looks into the ocean, which parts like an aquarium for her. I was happy though to see South Pacific culture celebrated with song and homages to their wayfaring ancestors. And there is no prince in the movie for Moana to chase after, a first for a Disney “princess” movie.

Disney does show the power of the ocean, from thunderstorms creating big waves that overwhelm Moana’s boat, to Moana being thrown into the ocean deliberately and by accident. A good portion of the movie (at least half?) is just Maui, Moana and the rooster Heihei on Moana’s boat. I would not recommend this movie to toddlers, as during solo songs and other dialogue-driven scenes, the toddler behind me would kick more and his younger brother would cry. There aren’t any unnecessary scenes, it’s just that there is a lull at times.

I was surprised that the relationship between Maui and Moana isn’t more cordial initially, but the story grows in intensity as their relationship becomes stronger and friendly.

I didn’t especially like the scene in which Moana and Maui go to the realm of (unrealistic at least) monsters and steal back Maui’s magical fish hook. The fish hook is pivotal to the story, as it allows Maui to transform into different animals to fight the lava monster. The hermit crab is strange, and I didn’t really hear the lyrics as I was worried about our heroes getting the fish hook. The monsters aren’t realistic with their neon colors and fantastical design, but could still scare young children.

In short, I enjoyed “Moana” and would recommend it to any Disney movie fan. Ocean lovers will appreciate the reverence shown to the ocean. Just don’t expect “The Little Mermaid” when it comes to animals. Almost all of the action occurs on the water, not below.

What did you think of Moana?

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