SPOILERS!!!!!!!! I spoil goddamn everything in Moana, consider yourselves warned.
Moana is about climate change, and I can prove it!
(man, the title of this article may make appear I support climate change, huh…?)
Okay, so in order to provide my evidence to this 100% real thing that Moana is about climate change, I need to outline what the characters, settings and items all represent. Moana-is the surrogate for the audience, like most leads in Disney fare are. She’s not here to let you know that you can have your dreams come true if you work hard enough, or make a beast realise their inner man, or stop the gentrifying of your home by these shitty hyenas who made the water stop flowing and brought crime into the neighbourhood. She’s here to let you know you, too, can follow your calling and make a difference in the world. She does this by solving climate change.
The climate here is Te Fiti, the goddess worshiped by Moana’s people who gave the planet life. Once her Heart was removed, however she transformed into Te Ka, a destructive force lashing out blindly. All this was carried out by Maui, who here represents industry. Maui gives the people all these wonderful gifts and little conveniences, usually with trickery and his shapeshifting powers. These gifts help the people out and they are grateful for them, but goes too far pursuing them out of greed and plunges out the heart. This starts a chain reaction, where Te Fiti (climate) goes bad and starts slowly eroding everything around her. Soon, there will be nothing left for the people to survive on.
Then we get to Moana’s father Tui, who takes the role of complacency. Moana is loosely inspired by the true-life occurrence of ancient Polynesian people abruptly ending their voyages for a century before resuming them. The exact reasons why remain unknown, but some put it down to climate change, which is what the movie infers with the Heart of Te Fiti story. It’s important to note that Tui is not complacent for negative reasons, it’s just to protect the people on the island Motunui and his family with what they have. Finding a reason for what has happened could end up badly, so it’s an ignorance of preservation and not malice. This is when ‘Where You Are’ comes in-it’s a song about accepting your place where it was destined to be, and don’t worry about the big old ocean out there. This conservatism and tradition come from a good place, but they are at a price of hurting their environment.
What about the ocean? Well, it represents hope. Hope of something better beyond Motunui, but its vastness means you may not get to where you need to be. We see Moana’s passion to embrace that hope and voyage across the ocean in ‘How Far I’ll Go’. It’s a rallying cry to face the fears of the climate to realise your place, outside of the more conservative outlook of assuming everything’s fine and this whole global warming thing is probably a liberal hoax anyway. And she fails, almost immediately. That’s important, because she’ll continue to do so the less she understands her journey or why she’s taking it. at the moment it’s affirmation and a sense of adventure. This will change.
Moana’s grandmother Tala is both the voice of the ocean and is kind of an old hippie. She is wise and sees the dangers of complacency but is too old and not taken seriously enough to do anything. It’s how we tend to treat the figures of our past, even if they may help us better during times of strife. She’s the village crazy lady, so no need to listen to her. But she’s an important connection to tradition and coaxes Moana into following her way instead of helping her realise here own. ‘We Know the Way’ tells us the importance of older ways that treated our environment with way more respect and intrigue instead of complacency and as methods of convenience. Moana has to embrace these ways to find a respect for the world, but it’s not the only way like Tala seems to imply.
Anyway, she gives Moana the heart of Te Fiti that Moana finds as a baby and gives her stronger motivation to leave. Around this time, of course, climate change starts to take its toll, but in a much more on-the-nose way because this is a kids movie. Coconuts are rotting, their bay is running out of fish. Despite all these warnings, Tui refuses to consider the possibility of going beyond their boarders for help. Remember, however, that he’s not a bad guy. Not everyone is just a greedy, ignorant asshole about the whole thing. Some people have legitimate concerns about attempting to rectify the situations, be it danger or expense or what have you. I mean, it’s not as reasonable if the person won’t make really simple changes like not reuse shit or whatever, but he’s the father and he needs to be likeable, so I can roll with it.
Moana’s off on her journey! And she runs into HeiHei, who represents…funny, I guess. HeiHei’s amazing and an invaluable part of this movie, damnit!
Anyway, she finds Maui thanks to some slight plot convenience, and we get ‘You’re Welcome’. This song is great, because it represents the mentality of big industrial types who just assume people should be thankful for what they give, instead of holding them accountable for the shit they’ve caused. Such as climate change. Maui’s an arrogant jerk to begin with, but I think it’s important that he is nuanced. He’s a person…demigod…and not just some soulless greedy corporate stand-in because this movie is about climate change. Moana teaches him the self-evaluation he never found in his conquests for her people, and a sense of self-worth he never had due to being abandoned as a baby. It’s a great way of showing that even the 1%ers can be taught the errors of their ways and can be valuable assets to helping the planet. It may not ever work for the most of them, naturally, but this is a giant conglomerate making this, so we gotta make the big guys look somewhat redeemable, right?!
Alongside Maui, the monsters themselves are representative of different levels of corporate greed (sans Te Ka). It’s no coincidence that they are what convince children of Motunui not to go out into the ocean (hope) and stay compliant to their ways of life and customs (conservatism). We’re introduced to the Kakamora, who are pirates inside coconut shells. They are what could happen if we let climate change win-a warning to what may come in the future. Note that they have adapted the movie’s beloved coconuts into armour. We are also introduced to Tamatoa, who resides in Lalotai, the land of monsters. He is the avarice of those who feed off the planet selfishly personified…crabsonified. His song ‘Shiny’ is literally about loving things more than anything. Him and Maui have this selfishness and arrogance in common-in fact Moana points it out. The difference is Maui is willing to change, Tamatoa and most of these monsters won’t. Also, unlike the upperclass masters of Metropolis, these monsters are far underneath the ground. Because those who cost the most damage to our climate are very much hidden away while we blame ourselves.
We come to Moana and Maui arriving at Te Fiti, and facing the destructive, evil climate it has become. And, once again, Moana fails. She gets abandoned by Maui after having his fish hook damaged as he’s still not willing to realise he is not nothing without it. In this moment, she gives up all hope, dropping the Heart into the ocean and refusing to let it give it back. She continues to follow her destiny as a bad-ass planet saver on borrowed terms, trying to affirm this image of herself. . On cue, her grandmother comes back in spirit/stingray form to admit she was wrong to put that kind of pressure on Moana. We then get a reprise of ‘How Far I’ll Go’ upon her realisation that she needs to do this on her own terms. Use what Maui, her grandmother and her ancestors taught her and make this journey to save the Earth hers. Where she needs to go is to take the charge and save the climate her own damn self, because she is Moana, damnit!
And that’s what she does. With Maui coming back and realising he’s still Maui hook or no hook, Moana comes to the realisation that Te Ka is Te Fiti. She doesn’t win it over with force, or blind confrontation, like everybody else has done. She ‘defeats’ Te Ka through compassion. She removes the water, putting it to each side, allowing Te Ka to come to her and building a bond with her to restore her Heart. That’s how you create change-you connect with nature and inspire people to follow your path. You go home with all you learned and become a master wayfinder and lead people to the depths of the ocean, with bountiful resources and a respect for nature. Maybe it won’t change everything, maybe you won’t save the world all at once, but find the best you in your own way, and you’ll do wonders in helping our planet.
And that’s why Moana is about climate change. Hope it wasn’t too crazy. Yeah.
Next up, we talk about the Marxist themes found in Cinderella, and how I’m completely joking I don’t have another Disney blog in mind.
Besides, Marry Poppins is the true Marxist text from that era.