By Sofia Jesus

There’s a brave, independent princess-explorer; a self-absorbed tattooed semi-god; and a very dumb, annoying chicken. But what stroke me the most in Disney’s feature animation Moana was the sea — so blue, so bright, so beautifully animated you could almost feel drops sprinkling out of the screen.

Moana (2016), directed by Ron Clements and John Musker, tells the story of teenage princess Moana, who lives in a paradisiacal, self-sustained, Hawaiian-like island called Motunui. But she is not your typical princess. She has inherited the right and duty to rule over her village, but that’s about as princess as it gets. Moana has the soul of an explorer. She is brave, curious, independent.

Moana has always felt mysteriously attracted to the ocean and its secrets, but dared not to fully defy her father’s rule that said no one was allowed to go to into the water beyond the reef. Until food starts to disappear in what seems to be an ecological disaster in the island. Influenced by her allegedly crazy grandmother’s stories, she decides to leave and venture into the wide ocean to find semi-god Maui and restore the Heart of Te Fiti, a magical stone that had been stolen years before by him and, if restored, could perhaps bring back balance to the region.

It is her voyage with Maui, a funny, arrogant big guy with amusing living tattoos, that we follow across the sea. But there is no romance in the air — it is more of a sibling partnership, with both the arguments and the cuddle.

As for the animation itself, though I usually tend to prefer a more classical style — I’m a fan of Japanese Studio Ghibli — I couldn’t help to surrender to the amazing computerised effects of Moana. For I have never seen a non-real sea as breathtaking as this.

The film, which has a powerful soundtrack, is an adventure filled with mythological elements and hints of ecological awareness. Te Fiti is a kind of mother nature. And I loved the fact that — spoiler here, sorry — the legendary monster everyone was scared of and Moana and Maui were supposed to have to fight to be able to get the magical stone and save Te Fiti was nothing but Te Fiti herself, after she was left aching and longing for her stolen heart. If you are seeking for balance, look within, not outside.

Despite the obvious ecological message, I think there is a stronger tale here. A tale about a hidden heritage, but also about our capability to dream, and more than that, to question, to dare, to seek, to leave our comfort zone. For the lucky ones in the world, it seems modern life has made everything at hand, with little mysteries to solve and little reasons to look for them. “We have everything we need here,” as Moana’s father used to say. But take a good look inside: Isn’t something missing? Aren’t we all explorers?

Moana (2016)

Directors: Ron Clements and John Musker