Moana, Maui, & Me

disney-moana-adoptionHave you seen Moana yet?  No?  Oh, well go. NOW! I’ll wait…

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Ok, now I hope you really went and saw the movie because a.) It’s amazing and you need to and b.) There be spoilers ahead!!

When we saw the preview, what feels like forever ago, I knew I would love it. I couldn’t wait, and neither could Avery. Every time we mentioned Thanksgiving she’d say “That’s when we can see Moana!” So, the day after Thanksgiving, we headed out to see it, and we were not disappointed. In fact, it blew my very high expectations right out of the water! It has become my new favorite Disney movie (Please don’t tell Merida!!)

So what is it about this film that touched me so deeply?  I’ve been thinking about this a lot this week (while I listen to the sound track, full blast, sing til I’m hoarse, and cry because “omgoodnessIloveitsomuch!!!”)

I found the two main characters, Moana and Maui, to be incredibly relate-able.

moana-adoptionLet’s start with Moana. She is the teen daughter of the village Chief. She’s next in line to lead the people of her island, Motunui, and she’s got it made. Life on the island seems perfect. I mean, look at it, it is paradise! They have all they need right there.

Moana sings;

I know everybody on this island
Seems so happy on this island
Everything is by design
I know everybody on this island
Has a role on this island
So maybe I could roll with mine

I can lead with pride
I can make us strong
I’ll be satisfied if I play along

But then she says,

But the voice inside sings a different song
What is wrong with me?

I feel you Moana, I get you. I know that feeling.  I think most of us have felt that pull in our lives. We have what looks like a perfect life, or at least a good life. But there is something missing. Something that we may not be able to give a name to, or even understand. Something we need, something we need to do.

For me there is an added layer. The adoption layer. That lens that I see life through. For my whole life, there has been something…not something missing per se, but something else. Something more.

I had a pretty fantastic childhood, a great life. I was and am happy. But, there will always be a part of me that is unknown. A part of me that asks “What if?”  and “Who am I?”  Like Moana, I have always wanted to know what is beyond that line where the sky meets the sea.  Watching the movie I wanted to yell to her “You go! You find what it is that you’re seeking! Don’t wait! Don’t let it be too late! Go!!!  Find yourself!!”

And, you know what else I loved about Moana?  She’s a strong girl, she’s brave, she’s determined, and she’s not out looking for a man! Thank you Disney!!!!

maui-adoptionThen there is Maui.  Maui is the demigod and hero of Polynesian Mythology. His story varies slightly from culture to culture, but he is generally known to be the one who pulled the islands up from the sea, he slowed the sun giving us longer days in the summer and shorter days in the winter, he brought coconuts to the world by killing and burying an eel, and lifting the sky.

So, where did he come from?

*Note: The following is a spoiler, but my help families in the adoption triad to make a decision about seeing the movie or not, and possibly how to best prepare their adopted kiddos for the film.*

In one scene, Moana notices one of Maui’s tattoos. It shows a woman, holding a baby out over the water. Moana asks Maui what story that tattoo tells. He doesn’t want to share, and you can tell that it is not a happy story. Moana’s prodding actually made me a bit uncomfortable, as I had a suspicion about the tattoo’s meaning. Eventually, Maui tells her. He was born to human parents, he says “They took one look at me and wanted nothing to do with me” and his mother threw him into the sea. The way Maui tells the story shows how much pain this caused him, how he felt like he was thrown away like trash.  A feeling many adoptees share, and even those of us who do not feel that way can relate and understand. He goes on to explain how the ocean saved him, kept him alive, and he became a Demigod.

Because of his feelings of rejection, he spent his life trying to do good things for humans, to get them to love him. The love he never felt from his parents.  I have to say, his story was a bit of a gut punch for me. I wasn’t expecting that as there really wasn’t any sort of lead up to it. It was just “Hey, we’re singing, we are having fun, this is a great story, everything is happy, yay….BAM!” But, thennn I felt much closer to Maui. I understood him and his actions, his character was less of an egotistical trickster, and more of a sensitive guy who had been hurt in the deepest way, and it made him who he is.

As an adult, I watched it with a sense of “Yes, yes, I get that Maui, I can relate to those feelings completely!!” However, a child my very easily focus on the fact that his parents literally threw him away. And while an adult can understand the concept of the ocean “adopting” him (this is mythology after all!) is kind of hard to grasp for a kid.

I also thought that perhaps a nice way to frame it was “Look at how powerful he became, how strong and brave, and look at all the good things he did for the world, even with his life starting off the way it did!” Adopted kids can do great things! They can change the world in the most amazing ways!

The characters in this film really spoke to me. I related to them in much deeper ways than any other Disney movie character, and it moved me.

But wait! There’s more!

There is also my love for Polynesian culture in general.   And again, it ties into this whole adoption thing.  I’ve always had trouble finding my cultural identity.  I know my biological parents were Irish, but my mom and dad aren’t.  So it’s hard to really identify as an Irish-American (Or American of Irish descent) when I wasn’t really raised as such.  My parents have pretty interesting heritage. My father is Italian and Norwegian.  I don’t feel like that is my identity and I feel like a fraud trying to “claim” it. My mother has a whole mix of things including German, French, English, and Native American. And again, I don’t identify as any of those things. So who the heck am I?  What am I?

Since I never felt like I had my own cultural identity, I have always been interested in others–and I’ve bee envious of those who have such a strong connection to their culture.  One that has always fascinated me is the Polynesian culture.  The beautiful islands and love of the natural world, the food, the history, the culture, the stories and mythology, the art (and the tattoos!) the music, and the language. It has always called out to me.  And the movie has led me to start reading and learning more and more. (And hopefully, my husband will read this and see how meaningful it is to me and a.) stop making fun of me for singing the songs non stop and b.) will book a vacation to one of the islands…or all of them.  That would be cool too!)

So there you have it. Moana.  My new favorite movie for so many reasons. Go see it if you haven’t yet. I promise that you’ll love it!

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