Episode 440: The Moana-Myth

On the Overthinking It Podcast, we tackle Disney’s latest animated film, “Moana.”

Peter Fenzel, Mark Lee, and Matthew Wrather discuss heroism, story structure, culture, and gender in the latest animated film from the Walt Disney Company, Moana.

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11 Comments on “Episode 440: The Moana-Myth”

  1. yellojkt Member #

    No talk about the ocean is complete without a reference to “Atlantic City” starring Burt Lancaster and Susan Sarandon.


    “You should have seen the Atlantic Ocean in those days.”


  2. Mark Lee OTI Staff #

    This didn’t make the show, but in the pre-show conversation, we pointed out some parallels between Moana and, what else, Terminator 2.

    Moana = Sarah Connor
    Moana’s dream = Sarah’s dream
    Maui = Ahnuld

    The connections aren’t THAT strong (especially since Maui can shapeshift, making him more of a T-1000), but it gave us the excuse to come up with these Maui/Terminator crossover quotes:

    “I know now why you sail…but it is something I can never do”
    “I need your stone, your chicken, and your catamaran”
    “I need a tropical island vacation”


    • Derdrom #

      Whew! I was blown away (but thankfully not turned to ash) when Moana had the T2 nightmare, and re-blown away when the podcast ended without mentioning that. I’m glad the retread didn’t scar my kids like the older scene did to my 10-year-old self, along with the “don’t drink from the carton” kill. I’d seen T1 years before, but its only scene I recognized as transgressive was John’s conception.


  3. Chimalpahin #

    Love you guys and I liked the film but man was it problematic, I KNOW YOU DON’T LIKE THE TERM WRATHER BUT I’M GONNA USE IT!. To well actually Fenzel Moana is not Hawaiian, this is part of why a lot of Polynesians have a problem with the film, Moana and her island are a hodgepodge of different polynesian cultures.

    ALso Maui is still revered, his cult is not dead yet, he hasn’t joined Hercules yet XD.

    Te Kā, “the lava witch”, is also difficult because she’s so closely patterned on Pele, or Madem Pele, also still worshipped. So you can see why some are upset. Consider that the Hawaiian language was illegal until the early 1990’s.

    Not to mention the effed up marketing, selling a Maui costume? Weird.

    To be positive, I really liked the film. ALl of the songs were good, Tamatoa’s song was especially fun. I’m surprised y’all didn’t mention the Bowie impression. I loved Dwayne in it, never knew he could sing :D and Auli’i Cravalho’s performance was a joy.

    Also fun fact Moana was changed to Vaiana in Europe, Vaiana in France and Spain and the movie to Oceania in Italy, because the name Moana is closely tied to a famous adult film actress in Italy.


    • Mark Lee OTI Staff #

      I admit I have very little knowledge of the Polynesian cultures at question here, but I think you’re setting an awfully high bar for this movie to clear to avoid being disrespectful / sacrilegious. Do you see any way a movie like this could have been made without being so “problematic”?

      Also, you say that “a lot of Polynesians have a problem with this film.” Can you cite some sources?


  4. Teanna Byerts #

    Fabulous podcast guys!

    I can relate to this film on so many levels, despite being an American from a landlocked European background; there’s a lot of archetypal stuff going on here, especially the bits about knowing who you are and loving yourself. Yes Maui has a distinct Hero Journey here too.

    Disney didn’t call their lava goddess Pele… probably because they didn’t want to offend anyone (especially Pele herself)(don’t mess with the Goddess) by portraying That Goddess in a fictional setting. What they came up with was a fabulous portrayal of the Divine Feminine in her wrath, and her glory… a bit like the Celtic Goddesses who both destroy and build.

    Also Thor film parrallelss (I never know how many rrrrs and llls to put in there): male hero, needs lesson in humility, has tool/weapon of mass destruction/creation, tool/weapon is taken from him, he’s on a mission with a Mortal Girl, learns compassion and humility, offers self as Sacrificial Hero (Thor facing the fiery thingie, Maui facing the fiery thingie), gets Great Big Hammer/Hook thingie back.

    I have heard from multiple sources including most of the actors, musicians etc involved in the movie, that Disney took great pains to set up an Oceanic Trust to keep their portrayal of Polynesian cultures accurate. Certainly there will still be people who don’t like the portrayal of their culture in the film. I’m with Dwayne Johnson and Opetaia Foa’i here about the “mana” this film carries, this is going to get the rest of the world interested in looking deeper into these fabulous cultures.

    I never thought of T2… which is one of my favorite films. And Ahhhhnold and the Rock are apparently buddies in real life…


    • Mark Lee OTI Staff #

      Glad you liked the podcast!

      Not to completely hijack this comment thread with Terminator stuff, but worth noting that The Rock has oft been rumored to appear in a Terminator movie, either as a replacement to or villain against Ahnuld. Which at this point is safe to say, ain’t gonna happen. (Terminator is proving itself to be remarkably resistant to rebooting, due in large part to Ahnuld’s performances in the original.)

      The Thor parallels are very strong as well. It’s a different sort of hero’s journey, one that doesn’t quite fit into the Joseph Campbell monomyth template, but can still be mapped onto the more flexible Dan Harmon “story circle”:

      1. You (a character is in a zone of comfort) – Maui’s backstory, up to the point of losing the stone and the hook
      2. Need (but they want something) – Maui needs to get his hook back
      3. Go (they enter an unfamiliar situation) – Maui meets Moana
      4. Search (adapt to it) – Maui and Moana trek across the sea
      5. Find (find what they wanted) – Maui gets the hook back
      6. Take (pay its price) – Maui sacrifices himself and the hook against the fire beast
      7. Return (and go back to where they started) – Maui gets his hook back
      8. Change (now capable of change) – Maui is back to his old shape-shifting self, and also flying alongside Moana’s seafaring people

      More on the story circle in this video (15 minutes, but well worth the time):



      • Teanna Byerts #

        Cool! Also glad to see some intelligent dissertation on a good Disney film that goes beyond fangeeking!

        Copying that story structure for future reference…


  5. Lemur #

    I’m a bit late to this party, but I cannot recommend strongly enough to all Overthinkers the book “Philosophy in a New Key” by Susanne Langer. Particularly, in this discussion’s context, the chapter on “The Roots of Myth” which is an essential counterpart to Campbell in general but moreover just happens to take Maui as a primary example and has a lot of fantastic analysis of the meaning of his various stories.


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