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Moana looks to the past for strength

Breaking with tradition, Disney’s newest animated movie for families is not set in the pale-skinned world of Frozen or Cinderella. At cinemas from Boxing Day, Moana is Disney’s first shot at a fairytale located in the Pacific Islands. Samoan descendent The Rock and other Islanders provide voices to the story of a young woman, Moana (Auli’i Cravalho), trying to save her people with the help of a demigod, Maui (The Rock).

While Moana’s setting and ethnicity are something new for the Mickey Mouse House, there are two major things about it which cling tightly to the past. One is that the main character, Moana, is another Disney princess on the quest for self-belief and empowerment. She might have darker skin and go on adventures far, far away from where Snow White lives, but Moana is the latest Disney action woman for all ages.

There is something about knowing our past that helps us feel more assured about our future.

The other thing clinging to the past is Moana, the movie. One of the foundations of this Pacific Islands yarn is what the creative team calls “know your mountain.” Head of Moana’s story department, Dave Pimentel, said in an interview that “know your mountain” is a phrase picked up during initial research into Islander culture.

“[Co-directors] Ron Clement and John Musker kept using that as their guidance for their theme when they were originally starting – and it’s [about] knowing your ancestors,” Pimentel explained on the Den of Geek website. “Like you are the tip of the island and everything beneath you on that island is those who have come before you.

“That just stuck with me… It’s such a resonating special feeling to either know your family or know where you’ve come from or, at least, try to go back where you’ve come from or try to find out who you are.”

Knowing where you have come from, so you know what you are about, is an undercurrent of Moana. The Disney team claims to have worked hard to accurately represent Pacific Islanders but some viewers are likely to be offended or disappointed by what is up on screen.

No matter how you feel about Moana being creative with Islander culture or traditions, though, the appeal of “know your mountain” is something we can agree on. Perhaps you are part of the recent trend in searching online for leaves and branches of your family tree. Or maybe you and your family have always been into heritage and its impact upon how you live.

There is something about knowing our past that helps us feel more assured about our future. Like we know where we are going and how to get there, if we build well upon what came before us.

Jesus points us back to Jesus — as THE example of what to base our lives upon.

“Know your mountain” easily relates to the building site Jesus talks about in Matthew 7:24-27. Almost funny, isn’t it, how even Disney cartoons can get us back to Jesus? At the end of his super-famous Sermon on the Mount, Jesus simply lays out how basing your life upon the foundations of Jesus Himself is the best way to build for the future.

“Everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them will be like a sensible man who built his house on the rock.” (Matthew 8:24) Where Moana points back to ancestors and the example they set, Jesus points us back to Jesus — as THE example of what to base our lives upon. His words, actions and purpose are so rock-solid and eternal that there’s no better mountan to know (even as we celebrate and honour those who have gone before us).

Ben McEachen




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