All hail the Disney chieftain, Moana

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Karen Kunawicz

Karen Kunawicz

With movies like Dr. Strange, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, Moana, the upcoming Rogue One and an indie filled MMFF—I can only say I’m so relieved to be covering the currently fulfilling pop culture beat. I think my heart would sink like a rock in the ocean if I covered politics.

Disney’s Moana is among the big films closing out the year and thankfully, it’s got a lot of heart and it is endearing and irresistible on so many levels.

In the movie, Moana, the titular role, is the daughter Chief Tui and Sina. They live on a beautiful island in Polynesia—where everyone seems to be happy, singing songs and living off the bounty of nature. But when blight hits—causing coconuts to yield dust and waters to lose fishes—Moana sets out on a mission to save her village.

Guided by the tales and stories of her grandmother, she seeks the demigod Maui (voiced by Dwayne Johnson) to help her return an enchanted stone to the island goddess Te Fiti, so bounty can return to her home. Moana, the future chieftain, defies the initial orders of her father not to venture out, but she is determined.


Her days out at sea reminds me of scenes from Life of Pi where one must just draw upon inner strength, courage and the love and support of ‘family’ (both living and departed) to make it through.

Moana’s bond with Maui also reminds me that of the genie with Aladdin: sweet, funny and tender.

The animation is superb, and the music is excellent—credits go to the powerhouse trio of Opetaia Foa’i, Mark Mancina (Lion King, Tarzan) and Lin-Manuel Miranda (Hamilton, In the Heights). My personal favorites are Tamatoa’s “Shiny,” which has a David Bowie touch to it and Moana’s “How Far I’ll Go.”

Also, I like how having a future chief who is a young woman is a non-issue—like it is entirely plausible, acceptable, a part of life and celebrated whereas the real world (and the world of the upcoming Star Wars Rogue One film) can have bouts of misogyny.

The brave Moana and the demigod Maui

The brave Moana and the demigod Maui

On another note, I was holding off listening to the full original cast recording of the critically acclaimed, award winning and well loved musical, Hamilton (music, lyrics and book by Lin Manuel Miranda).

That’s because I had a silly notion that I would get a chance of seeing this hit. It debuted on Broadway in 2015 but if you want to buy tickets now, the website will let you know that the next available seats are for next August. While the orchestra section is available, the ticket will set you back over a thousand dollars.

It was brilliant, as expected but for now, I’ll have to settle reading the Ron Chernow book (which inspired Miranda) over the holidays.

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