Discussion about environmental themes in the 2016 Disney film, Moana. Directed by Ron Clements and John Musker.

You may want to watch the film first and think about:

  • How does the movie make you feel about the ocean? How does it give you that feeling?
  • Who, if anyone, is the villain of the movie?

What the film did well

Accurate depiction of ecology and geology

  • Employed biologist to guide animators while researching polynesian islands
  • Tamatoa – decorator crab – normally attaches things to shell as camouflage, but uses the behaviour to catch fish
  • Magical without as much exaggeration or fantasy as might be expected in an animated Disney film

Representing different cultures and ‘ways of knowing’

  • Established Oceanic story trust involving historians, storytellers, craftsmen, navigators etc. to take part in development of the script and visuals
    • Disney Examiner article
    • Tamaira, Marata & Fonoti, Dionne. (2018). Beyond Paradise? Retelling Pacific Stories in Disney’s Moana. The Contemporary Pacific. 30. 297-327. 10.1353/cp.2018.0029. 
  • Ocean as connector instead of barrier
    • In Western/European views water is often a barrier to be challenged and crossed
  • Return of Heart of Tefiti as a metaphor for voyaging to new islands as something central to their culture?
    • Balances population around islands, less resource pressure

Use of resources

  • First introduced to problems with coconut groves and poor fishing Moana suggests measures for sustainable food production
  • Crop rotation is common practice
    • balances use of nutrients in soil
    • Pathogens which attack specific plants can build up in soil if same crop is grown year-after-year
  • Rotating fishing areas to allow populations to recover
  • Non-magical reasons why resources may be diminishing?
    • Thrived on island for centuries – soil in easily farmed areas may be depleted
    • Dependence on single crop may be allowing pathogen to spread
    • Larger population, fishing pressure might be too high

Managing risk

  • Father’s understandable response to tragic event early in life leads to extreme risk aversion
    • Moana never learns to sail and ends up in greater risk because she has not learned how to manage the dangers in sailing.
    • Does nothing to curb Moana’s desire to explore the ocean, but deprives her of the skills needed to do so with competence
  • Ocean is very hands-off
    • Other than when responding to Maui, the Ocean does not directly intervene
    • Possibly intervenes in extreme risk – Moana being knocked out in the storm
    • Allows Moana to learn how to sail on her own rather than propelling Moana to her goals

The magic of the Ocean

  • Not reliant on abundance of coral reefs to create the desire to explore
  • The way characters relate to the ocean transmits the love of it
  • Even in the Land of Monsters, part of what makes the scene magical is the perspective on the ocean
  • The ocean’s draw comes from the vast size, horizon, peace, danger

What the film missed the mark on

Perspective is very human-centric

  • Presents care of the environment as being for the benefit of humans
  • Care of nature could have been for its own sake

Focus on expansion

  • Hesitant about whether the world can support moving to new islands forever
  • Surely there are only so many islands Maui can pull from the ocean

Other thoughts

Gaia hypothesis

Living things depend on and interact with inorganic parts of the environment, creating a self regulating system. This is similar to the way in which predator-prey relationships form self-regulating systems.

Wikipedia entry – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gaia_hypothesis

  • The ocean represents the inorganic parts of the ecosystem, nudging humans restore balance by returning the Heart

Share your ideas about the movie with us!

Send them in to: knowingnaturepodcast@gmail.com

Tweet them to us @kn_podcast

Intro/Outro music: Selfish by Derek Clegg. Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 US License

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