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“Moana” gets Mixed Reviews

by Danny Stout and Gunnar Christensen

The much-promoted Moana debuted this week with fodder for film critics and giddy kids alike. Disney animation delivers a bouquet of folding color, and a clear moral message; parents and youngsters content with Saturday afternoon euphoria on the way to the post-theater ice cream cone. Directors Ron Clements and John Musker deserve modest praise. Unique in film history, millions will see a version of Polynesian culture for the first time. There’s a lot at stake for Pacific Islanders if Moana is the only introduction to Oceana. Tēvita O. Kaʻili, Indigenous Oceanian Cultural Anthropologist at Brigham Young University-Hawaii said in the The Huffington Post, “Minutes into Disney’s Moana, it became obvious that despite its important girl-power message, the film had a major flaw. It lacked symmetry by its omission of a heroic goddess. By failing to do this, Disney resorted to reducing the mighty god Māui to a one-dimensional selfish borderline abusive buffoon to foreground the strength of the movie’s protagonist Moana.”

<http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/goddess-hina-the-missing-heroine-from-disney%CA%BCsmoana_us_5839f343e4b0a79f7433b6e5>.

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As Ka’ili points out, whimsy overrides the integral message; Disney’s versions are usually dilutions of the engaging age-old truth tales even children long to see (See reviews of Krampus, and The Real Beauty and the Beast on this site ). Again, a swing and a miss despite the cerulean ocean and lush green mountains interjected with upbeat music by Opetaia Foa’i, Mark Mancina, and Lin-Manuel Miranda, especially the snappy tune, “You’re Welcome.”

Despite underlying values of family, following your calling, and taking risks, Moana shows that even a Pixar movie with all its technological trappings, can miss and even offend Polynesian audience members.

Looking at it from a superficialmoana-movie perspective, there’s continuity of emotion— laughing, then sadness, and optimal tension  appropriate for children. It personifies various parts of the earth, as does Hawaiian belief. You see a sassy and loving side of the ocean, the earth’s anger at its mistreatment, and its gratitude when honored with love and respect.

Moana is a colorful joyful ride, but an immature view of Polynesian culture. Despite its inaccuracies and stereotypes, however,  it places Oceana on the media map so to speak. Polynesia has entered the popular discourse, and it is up to audience members to clarify for misguided fans what they missed in this perfunctory effort.

 

 

 

Audiences React to “Moana”

by Ho Lam Leung

Disney’s “Moana” received abundant pre-release attention – not surprising given the Disney brand.  It’s stirring debate about insensitivity and culture appropriation regarding Pacific Islanders. What do actual viewers think of the film?  It earned $2.6 million at the box office among preview audiences, according to <forbes.com>, doubling that of Disney’s “Frozen”which earned $1.2 million in 2012.

We turned to social media for audience reaction.  Dominant themes were gleaned from 57 interviews at a theater in Laie, Hawaii.  More than half of the opinions came from  Native Hawaiians and other Pacific Islander (53.6%). The rest are from Caucasians (21.4%), Asians (16.1%), and (8.9%) from other groups.

The majority of statements (91.3%) hqdefaultexpressed overall satisfaction toward the movie, praising “spectacular” animation and “vibrant color.” Audience members liked the “innovative” story. Others expressed pride in Polynesian traditions: “Well, I figured out why the ocean didn’t just get the heart over to Te Fiti (the goddess of islands)? The answer to that is simple … it was necessary for both Moana and Maui to grow from the journey. Life is about growth. Our ancestors and the elements know this too.” A “personal growth” message was grasped by several audience members.

The character, Maui, was depicted as a “buffoon“, “selfish idiot“, “scared“, “arrogant” and “hideous,” according to several interviewees. The Real People Audience: Group Diverse Watching Movie Theater Comedymajority, however, liked Disney’s depiction, arguing his accomplishments were conveyed. The “lighthearted portray” fit well with Maui’s trickster role. In fact, several Islanders agreed that a “built” and “big” appearance was an appropriate description of Maui. One said, “Maui has multiple descriptions throughout Polynesia and even within a Polynesian group. History was maintained orally and has not preserved a single detailed Maui description.” Few said Disney fabricated the Maui story. Musker and Celements depict a combination of South Pacific cultures in “Moana”, instead of just one (as seen in “Lilo and Stitch”).  Fijian, Samoan, Tahitian, and other Oceanic cultures are synthesized. How do the audiences thought about such mingling of cultures in the movie?

In order to understand the Pacific spirit, the directors and production team made  visits to the Pacific, engaging an Oceanic consulting team. Did their efforts pay off? Several seem to think so: “I felt that it was portrayed pretty accurately as I felt like I could relate to a number of characters as they reminded me of people I know or knew in my life.” Citing the moment Moana fights through the reef with her canoe said, “(it) brought lots of memories.

The integration of different island cultures was both praised and criticized.  On one side, Real People Audience: Group Diverse Watching Movie Theater ComedyDisney’s inclusion of “all the islands” was lauded. A Pacific Islander said, “It’s difficult to tell the different cultures,” while several participants found the mixing “all too jumbled,” making it hard to follow the story. Several were surprised to find a “strong Samoan influence.”  Perhaps this is because Samoa is one of the few islands allowing women to have the chiefly title. One viewer recognized the “twist of legends and customs” compared to their own island versions. Knowing the Moana role in her island, one responded, “Women don’t take the responsibility of providing and protecting in Polynesia, but maybe Moana is based on some Tahitian myth or legend.” Some sensed favoritism in the choice of culture. “I don’t like how (the movie) was only Samoan and Tahitian-based. Maui is a Polynesian demigod, but the movie only displayed him as only a few.

At another level, music and dance played a big role.  The song, “We Know The Way,” was sung in Tokelauan. One participant said, “It was like being back on the island.” However, several noted a lack of Polynesian sound: Some songs “didn’t really fit.” Some argued that the soundtracks are more “Polynesian-inspired” than “authentic.

In summary, the audience clearly enjoyed the film, yet were assertive in their cultural critique. Those unfamiliar with Island cultures are likely to miss the nuances, but feel entertained nevertheless.   But to Oceanic peoples, we are speaking of heroes and Gods.  They live in the heart of those that preserve their heritage. They make Pacific Islanders unique from other nations of the world. Did Disney introduce these traditions to the world in Moana? Perhaps not, but new interest may be kindled.