A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Moana is an animated Disney adventure about a Polynesian island chief's daughter who sets off on a quest to save her people. With Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson voicing demigod Maui and a score that features original music by Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda, the movie should appeal to viewers of all ages. Scary, perilous scenes include run-ins with frightening, violent monsters (one made of lava, the other a giant crab) and with ocean storms and waves. Characters also go up against a ship full of adorable (but armed) coconut pirates, a character dies (offscreen), and a couple of male authority figures yell at Moana. There's also a bit of language along the lines of "butt" and "dumb." Otherwise, the movie should be fine for younger viewers, offering positive messages of self-discovery and empowerment. And Moana herself is a great role model, demonstrating perseverance, curiosity, and courage.
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What's the story?
In MOANA, Disney tells the story of a Polynesian island chief's adolescent daughter who's been raised to become the next leader of her people. Moana (voiced by Auli'i Cravalho) has always had a special relationship with the ocean and has grown up believing her grandmother's tales about how shape-shifting demigod Maui cursed the islands by stealing the ancient Heart of Te Fiti, which grants the power of creation. When the coconut harvest fails and the fishermen return with empty nets, Moana takes her grandmother's advice and sets sail against her father's rules. Her quest is to find the exiled Maui (Dwayne Johnson) and deliver him across the sea to return that which he stole a millennium ago. Along the way, the mighty Maui mentors Moana on how to be a wayfinder -- voyager -- as her people were meant to be.
Is it any good?
This engaging adventure triumphs because of its empowering storyline, which pays tribute to Polynesian culture, and because of its feel-good music, courtesy of Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda. Teen Hawaiian singer Cravalho and Johnson (aka "The Rock") share a refreshingly student-and-mentor-like chemistry as the driven Moana and mythic Maui. Unlike any other "Disney princess" movie, Moana is completely romance free, never once bringing up its main character's marriage prospects. Moana's status as the island's next chief is unquestioned, and she's so busy trying to diplomatically solve her people's problems that the lack of a love interest is welcome. As Maui points out, she's a princess because she wears a dress and has an animal sidekick (in her case, a kooky rooster called Heihei), but Moana strives to save her island, not find a prince.
No other actor could have been a better fit for Maui than Johnson (himself of Polynesian heritage): He's as charming in animated form as he is in live-action adventures. Maui starts off as a self-absorbed demigod; he sings one of the catchiest songs in the movie, "You're Welcome," about all of the ways humankind should thank him for his accomplishments. But as he grows to know Moana and teaches her how to navigate the ocean, his truer, kinder self emerges. The original music, which is a collaboration between Miranda, Disney composing alum Mark Mancina, and Samoan musician Opetaia Foa'i, is catchy and appropriately inspired by Oceanic music. Besides "You're Welcome," the funniest song is "Shiny," sung by Jemaine Clement, who plays a killer crab with an insatiable appetite for treasure. With its inspiring messages, charming characters, and memorable music, Moana is an excellent choice for moviegoers of all ages.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about which parts of Moana were scary. Did making the monsters cute (like the coconut pirates) or colorful (like the giant crab) make them more or less scary?
What makes Moana such a strong character? How does she demonstrate curiosity, perseverance, and courage on her quest? Why are those important character strengths? Is she a role model? Why? Can you think of other movies featuring strong female characters?
How does Moana deal with wanting to stay on the island and be a good leader for her people but also wanting to listen to the voice inside her telling her to explore the ocean? Have you ever felt like who people want you to be isn't the same as who you really are? Does Moana have to change who she is to be a good leader?
The story of Moana is based on myths and legends from ancient Polynesian culture. Is the movie respectful of those cultures? What did you learn about how people lived then?
How do the different characters handle their grief? Who becomes more cautious, and who becomes more courageous? Have you ever lost a loved one? How did you react?
- In theaters: November 23, 2016
- On DVD or streaming: March 7, 2017
- Cast: Dwayne The Rock Johnson, Alan Tudyk, Auli'i Cravalho
- Directors: Ron Clements, John Musker
- Studio: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
- Genre: Family and Kids
- Topics: Adventures, Great Girl Role Models
- Character strengths: Courage, Curiosity, Perseverance, Teamwork
- Run time: 113 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG
- MPAA explanation: peril, some scary images and brief thematic elements
- Awards/Honors: Common Sense Selection
- Last updated: November 11, 2020
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