Spoiler alert: This review contains spoilers. Reader discretion is advised.

Moana is a 2016 Disney film starring the voices of Auli’i Cravalho as Moana and Dwane “The Rock” Johnson as Maui.

On the Polynesian island of Motonui, the inhabitants worship the goddess Te Fiti, who brought life to the ocean, using a pounamu stone as her heart and the source of her power. Maui, the shapeshifting demigod and master of sailing, steals the heart to give humanity the power of creation. However, Te Fiti disintegrates, and Maui is attacked by Te Ka, a volcanic demon, losing both his magical giant fishhook and the heart to the depths.

A millennium later, Moana, the princess of Montonui, a Polynesian island whose inhabitants were formerly seafarers, suffers from an extreme case of wanderlust. After a blight strikes the island, Moana suggests they look past the reef for more fish, an idea her father summarily rejects. With the aid of her grandmother showing her hidden ships and giving her the Heart of Te Fiti, she takes off to find Maui. The duo retrieves Maui’s hook, his weapon and source of power, and battle Te Ka to find Te Fiti. Moana discovers Te Fiti is missing, but realizes Te Ka is the goddess. Moana restores Te Fiti’s heart, transforming her back to normal; Te Fiti then heals the ocean and islands of Te Ka’s poison. Maui apologizes to Te Fiti, who forgivingly restores his fishhook and goes into a deep sleep.

In this film, I find two theological concepts beautifully portrayed: calling and redemption.

During their voyage, Maui questions Moana’s destiny to restore the heart of Te Fiti. If the ocean appointed her to this task, he asks, why couldn’t the ocean complete it? Moana questions herself and returns the heart to the ocean, but continues her work after inspiration from her grandmother’s spirit.

Moana, like Moses, is an unlikely minister. Her story of self-doubt is not unlike Moses’ questioning of God (Exod 3:11–4:31). We all share the thought. Who are we to undertake such a lofty mission and achieve such great things? Finding role models and sources of loving inspiration are important for keeping our dedication.

During the climactic battle scene while she is attempting to restore the heart of Te Fiti, Moana realizes that Te Ka is in fact Te Fiti. The ocean clears a path for her to approach the goddess (Moses, anyone?), who races toward her menacingly. The goddess stops just short of the princess. With a loving recognition of her true identity (and the most beautiful song of the whole movie), Moana returns the heart to Te Ka, who transforms back into Te Fiti in a coup of animation.

It takes love and forgiveness to transform hearts. Only this force can affect the shadow sides we all possess. We all recognize God’s power to change people. But we are God’s body, and we sometimes forget that we have God’s redemptive power in us when we perform acts of love and forgiveness, since “love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God” (1 John 4:7).


At the request of a classmate…

Moana, starring Meagan McNeely