Moana is the story of a girl who grew up on an island isolated from the rest of the world. As a child, she was chosen by the ocean to save her people by returning the heart of a goddess. She grew up on this island believing she would be stuck there for her entire life although she wanted nothing more than to see what was beyond the reef protecting the island. Eventually her island starts to die due to a darkness spreading throughout the world because the heart of the goddess who creates life was stolen. To save not only her island but the rest of the world she must find Maui, the demigod who stole the heart, and make him return it. Moana ventures out beyond the reef with little knowledge of where to go and how to sail. She relies on her instincts and the help of the ocean to get to the island that Maui is marooned on. Once she finds Maui she must convince him to right his wrong and return the heart. Maui eventually agrees but they need to retrieve his fishhook from the world of monsters in order to defeat the monster that the goddess turned into after her heart was stolen. As they travel the ocean to retrieve the hook and then to replace the heart, Maui teaches Moana how to sail as her ancestors used to. In return, Moana helps Maui to master his powers once more. After replacing the heart and stopping the spread of the darkness, Moana journeys back to her people where she teaches them the skills which they have lost, allowing them to travel to and colonize new islands as they did before.
Moana’s story can be analyzed in many different ways. For example, her story goes along well with the feminist idea of marginality from Toril Moi’s Feminist, Female, Feminine. Moi defines marginality when she says “if femininity then can be said to have a definition at all in Kristevan terms, it is simply as ‘that which is marginalized by the patriarchal symbolic order’.” In saying this, Moi essentially means that the point of marginality in the feminine construct is to challenge the status quo from the outside (the margins) and work your way in. Considering Moana’s journey is all about challenging the status quo from the outside this idea of marginality coincides well. This idea of marginality is specifically shown in the beginning of the movie. At the beginning, Moana tries to convince her father,the chief, that they must venture out beyond the protection of the reef to find food, but her father says that it is too dangerous. This forces Moana to take matters into her own hands and attempt to venture beyond the reef on her own. This is a classic example of challenging the status quo. For ages, her people’s history as a group of sailors has been hidden away and as a result they have become content being stuck on land and never venturing too far out on the water. She doesn’t know what this will set in motion, but she goes forth and attempts to change her people’s viewpoint on the safety provided by the reef by proving that if she could do it anyone can.
Another way Moana’s story can be examined is from the Marxist viewpoint. Marx was unique in that he believed that the classful society always caused the upper class to exploit the lower class no matter the morality of the situation. This is done through the base and superstructure theory where the base is the means of production, and the mode of production. The means being the physical things going into making a product and the mode being how, and who actually makes the product. The superstructure on the other hand includes education, religion, family, politics, and mass media. The superstructure maintains the base by teaching and reinforcing the system of exploitation so that the lower class can’t escape. Moana is a great example of the base and superstructure as well. Moana doesn’t have a specific scene showing the base and superstructure but there are many ideas and combinations of scenes which can show it. For example, Moana’s people used to journey from island to island colonizing and cultivating which pleased the gods. This shows that her people were the mode of production and the islands, boats, and ocean were the means. Moana’s people were stuck as the working lower class were the gods were the upper class. This was reinforced by their religion, all Moana and her people wanted to do was please the gods, which would make them prosperous, or so they believed. This shows that the gods in Moana’s story not only had the ability to but did in fact exploit Moana’s people as Marx predicted would happen with the base and superstructure. Another concept from Marxist criticism that Moana works well with is alienation. From the Marxist point of view alienation is when, because you are different, you are left out or excluded or shunned by the majority of society. A scene from Moana that shows alienation is when Maui is introduced. When you learn about Maui everyone talks about him as if he is a horrible person, really all he wanted was to be a hero to mortals, like Moana’s people. Because he messed up once he ended up marooned on an island and with Moana’s people hating him. This shows they alienated him because he was once embraced as a hero by her people, once he did something that negatively impacted them, they immediately turned on him and began to shun him.
Moana tells us many things about our culture. It also helps to reinforce many societal constructs of which we are typically unaware. Moana gives many people, adults, children, boys, girls a role model. She is a role model because she challenged authority and saved not only her people but the rest of the world in the process, eliminating the darkness and bringing life back to the world. She shows that someone who is from a small community on an island can make a difference. Not only is she from this small community but she is also a young girl who isn’t a uniquely special person. The only thing that separates her from her community is that she is stubborn and gives her all to achieve her goals. Moana is also significant because although it may not seem like it her story subliminally reinforces our societal class structure. Her community has a hierarchy in which they have an ownership class and a working class. In her local community, the ownership class is the authority figures in the village such as Moana and her parents who are the ruling family. The working class in the village is the fisherman, builders, hunter, gatherers, and weavers. If you look at the movie as a whole the gods could also be considered the ownership class due to the fact that all of the people do their bidding and are completely beholden to them. Considering this, Moana did as she was supposed to according to the base and superstructure methodology. Because the superstructure maintains the base, their religion maintained the base when Moana and Maui returned the heart to the goddess, because without the goddess there is no life being created, only death.