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Reviewed by:
  • Moana by Jared Bush
  • TCP Book and Media Reviews Editor
Moana. Computer-animated feature film, 107 minutes, color, 2016. In English, translated into numerous languages. Written by Jared Bush; directed by Ron Clements and John Musker. Original story. Produced by Walt Disney Animation Studios, distributed by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures. 3d Blu-ray, US $34.95.

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Māui and Moana. Still image from the feature animated film Moana,

© Disney 2016. Reproduced with permission.

Few films have stimulated as much passion and difference of opinion as Disney's Moana, which opened to global audiences in 2016. In the Pacific context in particular, vibrant and vigorous debates about the merits of the film and Islander participation in its making proliferated in academic circles, in homes and classrooms, and on social media outlets like Facebook. Moana made waves across the Pacific—big ones. Although the churning waters have gradually subsided over the several months since the film's release, there nevertheless remains much to discuss. Moana opened up a valuable opportunity for people in the Pacific to wrestle with a complex set of concerns that are not often discussed in such public and candid ways and from so many perspectives. This forum attempts to maintain the momentum of those discussions in order to enable us to continue thinking through the film in ways that are reflexive, balanced, and open-minded. Although the four reviews included here represent but a small sample of the much larger discourse surrounding Moana, I hope they offer readers not grand answers so much as rich and varied insights that can help generate deeper questions and continuing conversations.

mārata ketekiri tamaira
tcp Book and Media Reviews Editor


When I go to see a movie, as soon as the lights go out, I pray silently: "Please, please, tell me a great story!" I anticipate the unfolding of a story so [End Page 216] compelling, so powerful, so resonant with my hopes and dreams that, for the duration of the movie, the rest of the world does not exist. When my wishes come true, I am a happy man. But what is a great story? For me, it is a tale that takes me on an emotional journey that feels like life, real or imagined. The more honest and authentic the representation of life, the more the story of the movie will resonate with me. When this happens, my faith in the transformative power of story is restored. I leave the cinema feeling I have been empowered in some way and that, because of the story I have just experienced, I have learned something important about myself or about our common humanity.

A compelling and resonant story on screen depends on many different factors, most of which are not obvious to the average filmgoer. Most of us judge a film by what we see on screen, with little or no attention paid to the various forces at play during preproduction, production, and postproduction. This review of Disney's Moana, however, takes into account some of the factors at play during the process of making this film that influenced the final product on screen. For example, filmmaking is a business that is often at the mercy of the dictates of the marketplace: sales agents, funders or investors, and exhibitors and distributors jostle each other for attention. The happy marriage of art (in the form of a fictional story that speaks to our common humanity) and commerce (meaning it is a financial success) is therefore an elusive goal that is not always attainable, in independent as well as mainstream cinema. Compromises, or concessions, depending on your point of view, are often made in order to suit the dictates of the marketplace at the expense of cultural authenticity.

Set in the Pacific about two thousand years ago, Moana is Disney's latest effort to tell a story rooted in an indigenous culture—in this case, Polynesian. Disney took into account previous academic criticisms of its stereotypical portrayals of indigenous peoples in earlier movies (such as Pocahontas and Lilo & Stitch) and sent directors Ron Clements and John Musker to Fiji, Sāmoa, French...