This past Thursday my wife and I went out to see “Moana” in theaters as a part of our weekly date night routine. The movie was wonderfully made with amazing art, music, and a terriffic story that I will try not to spoil here. Needless to say, you should definitely go see it if you have the chance.
The reason I am taking the time to write about Moana is that, while watching the film, I was struck with a thought that I think is worth sharing. That thought is this, “Moana is everything the Little Mermaid should have been.”
What do I mean by this?
Well first off let me explain what I like and what I hate about the Little Mermaid. This animated Disney film came out in 1989 and is said to have jump started the “Disney Renaissance” of the 1990’s. It is about a little mermaid named Arial who wants to live on the surface world and is willing to do just about anything to get there. While the music is amazing and the animation is beautiful, the message of the Little Mermaid is one of the worst things you can tell little girls.
Here’s the basic plot of the Little Mermaid, in case you forgot:
- Ariel is a princess who is unsatisfied living under the ocean and wants more.
- One day she sees a human prince named Derek on a boat. She immediately falls in love with him even thought the two have never spoken.
- Against the wishes of her father and again the advice of her friends, Ariel literally sells her voice to a sea-witch in order to get a pair of legs and impress the man she saw on the boat.
- Ariel ends up endangering everyone she loves under the sea to chase this man around, but in the end everything works out because the prince stabs the sea witch with his boat.
- No one learns a lesson and Ariel’s selfishness and reckless abandon is rewarded with her receiving everything the ever wanted.
You can probably see why I don’t like this movie. Moana, on the other hand, seems almost to be an apology for the Little Mermaid. There are many surface level similarities in these stories about two “princesses” who want to leave home and embark on a mystical aquatic adventure, the difference however lies in the lessons they teach.
Let’s look at Moana’s basic plot (as spoiler free as possible) and see where it deviates from the Little Mermaid:
- Moana is a chief’s daughter who has a desire to explore the world beyond her tropical island home, but who also decides to accept her responsibilities and find happiness where she is.
- One day Moana finds out that her island home is dying, and the only way to save it is to go on a mission which will take her across the sea to a distant land. Her father does not want Moana to leave, but for the good of her people she sets out on a journey to restore the balance of nature.
- Moana learns to be self-sufficient, while also learning the value of friendship and the importance of being true to yourself, your family, and your community.
- SPOILER: In the end, the bad guy is not killed by Maui the demigod, but rather is spared and redeemed by Moana’s kindness and bravery.
- In the end just about every major character learns a valuable lesson.
Very similar stories, but very different messages. The Little Mermaid is about a girl who wanted more, who was willing to seek out what she wanted at all costs, and who was ultimately rewarded for endangering herself and others while neglecting the advice of everyone who cares about her. Moana is about a girl who wanted more, but was willing to find happiness wherever she was. It is about a girl who had to learn to trust herself and who ultimately found her place in the world by living selflessly and boldly, risking everything to save the ones she loved.
Whether we realize it or not, the stories we tell (or show) our children shape their worldview. Children are learning how the world works and how they should treat others by looking at the examples we set before them. While I don’t yet have any children of my own, I do know that I would much rather have them look up to Moana than Ariel.