By: Stephanie Alana-Christie
Disney’s 2016 animated film, Moana begins with the theft of the heart of the Polynesian goddess Te Fiti from the island of Motunui. The demigod Maui steals the heart of Te Fiti in order to bless the islanders with gifts. The gifts include fire from beneath the earth to keep them warm, coconut trees, lassoing the sun to give the islanders longer days and more light, and “harnessing the breeze” to give the humans wind for their fails (“Moana”). The demon of earth and fire, Te Kā, stops Maui from escaping with the heart of Te Fiti and in the process, causes Maui to drop his magical fish hook that he uses to shapeshift into the ocean. Both the fish hook and the heart are lost in the waves. It is revealed later that without her heart, the goddess Te Fiti transforms into the demon Te Kā. The island of Motunui slowly begins to fall apart without the knowledge of the islanders, until the crumbling utopia becomes too destroyed to ignore, bring about the beginning of a dystopia for all of Motunui.
This animated film touches on some key aspects of utopian and dystopian societies, specifically related to what is and is not an island paradise. It is common in utopian literature for isolationism and collectivism to create a strong environment for community, but the outlook of the individual is a key factor as well. Moana shows the close kinship between utopia and dystopia; it suggests that too much isolation and adherence to tradition can easily erode a community.
Disney brings the audience to present day Motunui where princess Moana, daughter of the village chief is chosen by the ocean. As Moana helps a baby turtle back to the ocean instead of grabbing a conch shell that had caught her eye, the ocean sweeps Moana into a caress and gives her the heart of Te Fiti. As a toddler, Moana has no idea what the heart is, only that it is tiny, green, shiny, and pretty. She feels strongly that she should keep it. Her father, the village chief, picks Moana up from the water, carrying her away from the dangers of the ocean without knowing about his daughter’s discovery.
As Moana grows up both her vision of utopia and the island begin to transform. She is not content with the activities her people find so much joy in. She sees weaving fish nets and baskets, collecting coconuts, building fires, and other daily activities as monotonous and mundane. Despite this, she continues on in her duties as a member of the island. She is expected to carry out these duties and to be loyal to her community because she is the chief’s daughter and therefore next in line to rule. Moana only leaves the island after her grandmother passes away; however, before she dies, the grandmother tells Moana to “Go. Find Maui” (“Moana”).
Unlike the other islanders, Moana longs for adventure. The island of Motunui relies on the element of isolationism in order to maintain their utopia. She insists that “there is more beyond the reef” (“Moana”). This desire to explore grows even more when Moana discovers that her people were voyagers in the past. Moana’s upbringing in her isolationist community does not have room for exploration and change, things that she so desperately desires. The isolation makes Moana’s island home a dystopia for her. Leaving is not an option. However, after the fishermen’s catch continues to dwindle, the coconut trees die from disease, it is clear that the utopian island is falling apart. Moana breaks away from the isolation she has known her whole life, leaving her home in order to save it.
Moana becomes a hero to the island and her people after venturing out on her own, returning after finding first Maui and then the heart of Te Fiti. The island only becomes a utopia for Moana after she restores it to its former glory with the restoration of the heart. She no longer feels that the island is a dystopia because she has the freedom to explore. Without isolationism, her home is a utopia.
“Moana.” Disney Movies, movies.disney.com/moana.