My family’s take on Moana

I was really thrilled to get into a preview of Moana.  My daughter knew about it before I did and she was pumped.  “Movie about a strong brown girl” and that was enough for my Girly.  Here is the long and short of it…

First, some of the things that I loved about the movie.  And it’s sad that they were noticeable because they are usually NOT how movies are done…

Moana is, in fact, a princess.  You are definitely given this information in the movie but I didn’t feel as though it was as “in your face” as some of the Disney princess movies I’ve seen.  Often, this idea is reiterated throughout the movie.  In Moana, it is the reason she is on her journey because we are not hounded with her princess title at every turn.  That was kind of nice.

At one point, I noticed the lack of body definition on the women.  I noticed it on Moana’s forearms and ankles.  Then I realized she was not scantily clad.  Her clothes were not hypersexualized.  She wasn’t love-crazed or on a mission that ended with marriage or “getting the guy” and there was no real love interest at all.

And still, it was a wonderful story.  A story about a girl who was following her core, heartfelt ideas about who she was.

I don’t know enough about Polynesian culture to know how true it was to the culture.  What I HAVE studied, I saw replicated in the film.  But again–my studies are limited and the more I think about it the more I realize that my studies are undoubted slanted and biased by the sources.  So, I can’t really speak to that aspect of it.  I did find this review by a Polynesian writer about the cultural accuracy of different parts/aspects of the movie (read the entire thing).

Now… there ARE some parents that need to take care in deciding if this is a good fit for your kids.  For one, if you have kids who find scary parts of a movie to be too much to handle (or if your kids find things to be scary where other kids do not), this is probably NOT going to be a good movie to go see.  There are multiple parts of the movie in this category and some of them are not brief.  Even my youngest–who is generally into more gore and scary stuff than I feel comfortable with–grabbed me and said “That’s scary” at one point.

If you are an adoptive parent, you should be warned that there is one very small part of the movie that might be triggering if you have an adoptive child who is very sensitive to the idea of having been placed for adoption and/or has a sense of “rejection” attached to their adoption.

Before I go on, let me make the following statements REALLY. CLEAR:  I have ZERO issue with the horrors of mythology stories.  I also am THRILLED when I see the real and hurtful feelings of adoptees being shown to the general public because it is often a side of adoption that is covered up.  If you’ve read this blog, you know I’m a huge proponent of showing people that it’s not all rainbows and unicorns.  But the way this was handled in Moana was sudden and could be very traumatizing for a child who has significant adoption loss/rejection feelings.  I offer the following so that you can make your own decision about whether it’s a good fit for your child and whether it COULD BE a good fit with a little preparation.  You know your children best.

I found multiple origin stories about Maui, the demigod who is co-star to Moana in this movie.  The version Disney chose to use was that Maui’s parents threw him into the ocean.  This kind of horror is not really uncommon to mythology in general.  Maui’s origin comes up about 2/3 or 3/4 of the way through the movie and until then, there was nothing about the story that appeared to leave the viewer wondering about Maui’s origins.  So it’s not like discussing his origin resolved a burning question about him.  As a result, the topic kind of comes out of nowhere and doesn’t really fit neatly into the story.

The reason this is relevant is because there is no real context to the information–especially for a small child.  There is no buildup, no scaffolding for integrating this part of the story and that can make the whole thing a little more traumatic.  In fact, that kind of sudden impact is one of the highlights of trauma.  One of the differences between regular memories and traumatic memories is that traumatic memories happen when there is no storyline to the memory.  It happens suddenly and without “buildup” so-to-speak.  It is therefore fragmented in the rest of that person’s memory.

Maui has many tattoos on his body and each one appears as significant life events happen.  The tattoo of his mother throwing him (as an infant) into the water is hidden on his upper back under his long hair.  It’s visible very briefly earlier in the movie, but it’s easy to miss because it’s in an action sequence where the viewer is vested in the outcome of the action.  So it comes up later.

Maui has some very appropriate and natural adoptee feelings of hurt and resentment about his parents not wanting him.  On one hand, it’s good to see that coming to the masses.  On the other hand, he uses very brief and angry language about it.  There’s not a LOT of discussion about it.  He says “They took one look at me, decided they couldn’t handle it and tossed me into the sea”.  This is almost verbatim.  It is that curt.  I asked some people I knew were at the movie if I missed the “why”–what it was that they “couldn’t handle” and neither of those people remember seeing that addressed, either.  So you are really left with the feeling that he was “thrown away”.

Now, I offer the rest for the adoptive parents that are sensitive to “savior syndrome” or have children that might be sensitive to that.  Maui relays that once he was thrown into the sea, the gods saved him, raised him and is the reason he is the demigod that he is today.  I didn’t sense a noticeable glorification or change in tone during that part.  He was still sad–and that’s an improvement over the typical “happy ending adoption” sentiment that is often pushed.  But it still reiterates the “better off through adoption” sentiment that the public is usually fed.

If your adoptive child is not sensitive to these themes–this is really a good movie.  But my Girly broke down once we were outside of the theater and saw multiple regressions over the following days.  I relay this information for those of you that either know your child has these sensitivities; or DOESN’T know, but sees negative behavior changes in your adoptive child after seeing this movie–signaling that they may have these feelings and you didn’t know about it.  Or that you at least need to look a little deeper into it.

All my best to all of you,

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