Moana’s Journey

The psychology and symbolism underlying Moana are present in all great stories, and Disney knows how to tell them

Erin Tettensor, who also goes by the pseudonym Erin Lindsey, brought a blog about Buffy the Vampire Slayer to my attention, so earlier I was going to write about the face I make when people say “you write about women” or “you write about strong female characters” but I am pretty bored with that topic.

Instead, let me tell you about Moana. I just watched it for the first time and I regret not trying to see it in the theater. This is yet another movie that hits all the bases: it’s the first film telling of this legend as far as I know, it has great animation, great music, and above all a great story. Just like Frozen the tension is drawn out, the characters are engaging and the hero’s journey is rewarding. The Hero’s Journey has gotten something of a bad reputation because it has been abused, but at the heart of it, if you read Joseph Campbell’s book and really grasp the meaning of it, you see how it underlies all great stories and unifies human experience in the progression of our dreams.

Real heroes don’t succed by punching harder

I don’t want to ruin it for you if you haven’t seen it, but let me put it this way: when Maui strikes out on his own after the long journey and thanks Moana for getting him there, you know he isn’t going to succeed. He’s all brashness and masculine aggressiveness. He doesn’t have the expansive vision to see what he needs to see about his enemy. He doesn’t recognize the destructive feminine duality of his enemy. Moana does. They need to work together to reach their goal. Every Hero’s Journey comes to this point where the hero sees that just punching harder is not the solution. I think of Krull, where the intrepid team spends all their time trying to get at The Beast and tried so hard to bring the glaive with Colwyn, and the stupid thing doesn’t even work. It’s only when he and the princess he was trying to save work together that they can destroy The Beast. This is the key point of the psychology underlying the Hero’s Journey that is easy to miss if it’s applied as a story form instead of a theory of comparative mythology.

It’s a beautiful movie; it’s far more positive than my other recent favorite, Frozen, but it’s still highly meaningful. Frozen is built on the flaws of its characters, where Moana is built on their undying determination. Moana is more recognizably heroic and although there is a low point, Moana’s greatest flaw is her optimism, which is, of course, her great strength along with her open-mindedness and far-reaching vision.


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