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Disney’s “Moana” celebrates female empowerment

As a Pacific Islander, a mother of a girl, and a Hawaii resident, I think Disney’s “Moana” is a wonderful film long overdue.

Meya and Olivia at the screening.
Meya and Olivia at the screening.

“From Walt Disney Animation Studios comes “Moana,” a sweeping, CG-animated feature film about an adventurous teenager who is inspired to leave the safety and security of her island on a daring journey to save her people. Inexplicably drawn to the ocean, Moana (voice of newcomer Auli`i Cravalho) convinces the mighty demigod Maui (voice of Dwayne Johnson) to join her mission, and he reluctantly helps her become a wayfinder like her ancestors who sailed before her. Together, they voyage across the open ocean on an action-packed adventure, encountering enormous monsters and impossible odds, and along the way, Moana fulfills her quest and discovers the one thing she’s always sought: her own identity,” describes Disney’s website (

My family and I were lucky to attend a screening at Ward 16 Theaters this week, in which the crowd excitement was palpable. A movie about us! Finally!

Screenwriters Aaron and Jordan Kandell penned this script, drawing upon their life growing up in Honolulu. The identical twin brothers prologued the film by telling the audience this is the second screening ever of Moana – the premiere was the night previous in Hollywood – but this is the showing  they were most excited for because we’re who they wrote it for – Hawaii, and the families and children who live here.

They say they were always guided by the Hawaiian principle of ha`aha`a – humility – over the four years it took them to research and develop the script. “It takes a village to make a movie,” they revealed, detailing that 900 people worked on this feature film, including four directors and a total of five writers.

It’s a Disney princess flick, so you can expect the standard story arc of girl wanting more from the world, and overcoming obstacles to find it. What’s different, though, is there is no love interest, which is a relief for this mother.

I’m so grateful for a movie that can inspire my nine-year-old to want more from life than a happy ending with a man. I appreciate that Moana, who even rebukes the title of princess, preferring “daughter of a chief”, finds literal and figurative redemption at the end of a journey towards self-awareness.

Because it’s Disney, I take for granted the animation and score will be amazing, and they were. My favorite was a trippy song called “Shiny,” sung by Flight of the Conchords’ Jemaine Clement, presented by a minor antagonist in the form of a hoarding hermit crab. I want to download this song.

Sentimentally, though, I adore Cravalho’s voice, and am so happy for her fairy-tale like success in being discovered and catapulted into this extraordinary fame. I’ve more than a little hometown and school alumna pride in the fact that this Kamehameha Schools student bested international competition to land a role of a lifetime. What a story! She did Hawaii proud!

It also tickles me that two other key actors have Hawaii ties: besides Johnson, the ever-beautiful singer Nicole Scherzinger has a role as Sina, Moana’s mother. Waianae-born Scherzinger has family in Hawaii; in fact, I used to work with her aunt at Waikiki Parc Hotel!

When I interviewed Nicole Scherzinger in 2008.
When I interviewed Nicole Scherzinger in 2008.

That’s my adult take. Olivia and her friend really liked it too, although their review boils down to this: Moana is pretty, Maui is goofy, and the stupid chicken made them laugh non-stop. Moana has appeal across all ages, and is ready to take you on quite a fantastic voyage.

Moana opens November 23, 2016.

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