By Loryn Stone
I recently watched Moana for the first time. Ultimately, I thought it was a beautiful movie. The animation was stellar, the music was lovely and memorable, the characters were fun and dynamic, and the narrative was tightly constructed. You could even argue that it’s a perfect movie. Perfect…just like the whole mess of animated films that came before Moana that it, well…
At first, I thought it was a fluke because hell, there’s nothing original anymore, right? Isn’t that what everyone says to end a critical argument? Everything’s been done, every trope has been created, turned inside out, flipped, reversed, and everything has superficial similarities to everything else.
Feeling like a lunatic, I brushed it off. I pushed it out of my mind- there was no way Moana was copying anything. Hell, maybe I’ve just seen too many cartoons! But as the movie progressed, it just kept happening.
Until it got to the point where I wondered how many scenes I could piece together. Starting with the very first scene in Moana which reminds me just a little too much of the opening scene in…
If there’s anything I learned from Bart Simpson singing Deep Trouble, it’s that we start at the start, then take it away. And that’s exactly what happens in Moana, when it shares the exact same opening sequence with Zootopia.
If you hate clicking on things, I’ll break it down for you. Both movies start with a prologue, and a character describing (in the form of a play) what life was like for their people in distant generations. In Zootopia, it’s young Judy Hopps telling an audience of onlookers about predators hunting prey. In Moana, its Grandma telling the story of the island Te’Fiti getting her heart stolen by the demi-god Maui. Both stories end with a grand proclamation of “Blood, blood, blood, and death” (or inescapable death, which are the literal words in Moana). The camera in Zootopia pans to Judy’s horrified parents, and the camera in Moana pans to terrified babies.
Baby Moana then leaves the hut where Grandma was telling her terror tales to babies, and heads over to the ocean, unsupervised, where she has a “Diamond-in-the-Rough-Chosen-One” moment, where the audience learns that she’s going to make the world a better place one day. Moana’s father sees his baby alone in the ocean, scoops her up, and that’s when the movie starts getting all…
This is so shallow and superficial that I’m surprised it actually happened, but why in the ever-loving hell are the first songs in Moana and Pocahontas (minus the one about the English dudes sailing to Virginia) about the native people of the land singing their praises about the crops of the earth? And again, if you hate clicking on links I’ll leave a few song lyrics here so you can get the vibe of what the two songs are going for
Pocahontas: Steady as the Beating Drum
Steady as the beating drum
Singing to the cedar flute
Seasons go and seasons come
Bring the corn and bear the fruit
By the waters sweet and clean
Where the mighty sturgeon lives
Plant the squash and reap the bean
All the earth, our mother, gives
Oh Great Spirit, hear our song
Help us keep the ancient ways
All right, now moving on to Moana’s “Where You Are”:
There comes a day
When you’re gonna look around
And realize happiness is where you are
Consider the coconut
Consider its tree
We use each part of the coconut, that’s all we need
We make our nets from the fibers
The water’s sweet inside
We use the leaves to build fires
We cook up the meat inside
Consider the coconuts The trunks and the leaves
The island gives us what we need
And NO ONE LEAVES, damn it!!!! Moving on- each movie continues: free-spirited Pocahontas (daughter of a chief) laments that her father wants her to be steady like the river. She jumps into a canoe and ponders her way into a song called Just Around the Riverbend where she wonders if there’s more out there than her predetermined destiny of marrying a big, strong, beefy-dude. Meanwhile, Moana (daughter of a chief) has her own song called How Far I’ll Go where she hops on a canoe and kvetches her way into wondering if there’s more out there than her predetermined destiny of taking over as chief…where she gets to be the leader of a bunch of big, serious, beefy-dudes.
Now, let me just say that while watching scenes from Pocahontas to do research for this blog post, my four-year-old son ran up to my computer screen and said “Mommy, are you watching Moana?” Likewise, when I came back to work on it some more during another session, my two-year-old daughter pointed at my screen and said “That’s Moana!”
Neither of them has ever watched Pocahontas, and they still mixed up the main characters, and I sincerely hope that it’s not as superficial as both characters being women of color. They’re babies, but they’re not that naive. That in and of itself should prove the similarities. But I’m not even done yet- there’s even more crossover between these two movies, and it goes further than the ladies leaping delicately across rocks and geysers.
We stray from Pocahontas for a moment to go a bit Little Mermaid, after Moana discovers that her people were once voyagers. When she tries to convince her father that they can voyage again, he takes a torch, marches toward the ships, and declares he should have burned the boats a long time ago. And like Triton ready to set all his daughter’s tchotchkes ablaze, the only thing that stops Moana’s father is news that his mother just collapsed from sudden illness.
And going back to his mother, A grandmotherly figure guides both protagonists through their films, although Moana’s is a literal Grandma and Pocahontas’ is a tree spirit of a very old willow tree. Both Pocahontas and Moana are presented with necklaces, which they wear for the duration of their respective films. Pocahontas’ belong to her deceased mother, and Moana gets hers from her Grandmother while she’s on her deathbed.
In a nutshell, that’s where the majority of the crossovers end between Pocahontas and Moana. After her grandmother dies, Moana follows the call of the ocean, snags a canoe with her mother’s blessing, and makes her way into the sea, determined to find demi-god Maui and demand that he returns the Heart of the Ocean back to the Island of Te-Fiti. And once Moana is alone in the middle of the ocean, that’s when the movie goes a little…
Our diamond-in-the-rough Moana, and her chicken companion Heihei begin their oceanic journey. They face a storm, miraculously land on an island, and meet Maui- a lumbering funny dude with magic powers, though his powers are MIA until he’s able to get back his magical fish hook. And upon meeting the fabled demi-god shapeshifting hero of men and women, the audience learns something fun- Maui is a big old goof. In fact, in many ways, he reminded me of the Genie from Aladdin.
Let’s start by examining the physical similarities between Maui and the Genie. Both are big, lumbering magic men. The Genie uses his powers to transform into all sorts of things, whatever celebrity impression or object suits the momentary joke or narrative. Maui has a similar ability; Both take the poofing-combo approach (technical term for transforming into a string of creatures), and turn into trendy Disney characters at one point. Remember when the Genie summons Sebastian from a cook book, and turns into Pinocchio to call out Aladdin’s lie? Maui, when trying to turn into a giant hawk, becomes Sven from Frozen.
Both the Genie and Maui are complementary foils to their counterparts. Aladdin is self-deprecating so the Genie boosts him up, takes on an almost paternal figure, and bonds with the monkey. Moana is blindly confident in herself and mission, so Maui spends the first half of the movie telling her she can’t sail, she’s a dumb kid, the kakamora (you know, the little coconut pirates that look like the Shy Guys from Mario) are going to kill her, he’s going to eat her chicken, etc.
But similarly, once freed the Genie sings Friend like Me to Aladdin, a song that presents reasons to Aladdin why the Genie is so useful to him. Then in keeping-it-copied fashion, when Moana finds demi-god Maui he promptly sings a song called You’re Welcome, which again…tells Moana how useful he is.
Another Little Mermaid wink pops up in this scene, after Maui sings his song and locks Moana in a cave in order to steal her canoe. Inside the cave is an over-the-top ridiculous looking Maui statue posed in a muscle flashing cool dude pose. While likely more of a satirical nod to the Prince Eric statue that Ariel rubs her little underage fishy parts on, this a wink rather than a copy.
The Genie has a fun back-and-forth with his silent friend, the Magic Carpet. And Maui, not to be upstaged, has a similar back and forth with his silent buddy, the tattoo Maui on his chest. And maybe it was just me, but I got a little bit of a “Magic Lamp” vibe from the way Moana is protecting the Heart of Te’Fiti.
There are Cave of Wonders vibes (where Aladdin finds the lamp) versus the crab’s lair when our heroes go to retrieve Maui’s magical fish hook. The crab has literally made himself into a Cave of Wonders. Maui and Moana reclaim the hook, and the narrative is able to move forward, but we’re coming back to this scene in just a few minutes.
Just saying also- was anyone else reminded of this Flynn Rider character moment from Tangled was Maui expected Moana to fawn all over him? Swoon, damn it. Swoon.
Eventually, there’s trouble in paradise when Moana and Maui make an unprepared attempt to battle the Lava Monster Te’Ka and Maui gets his Fish Hook cracked. Much like the Aladdin story arch when Aladdin tells the Genie that he can’t set him free yet, Maui gets mad at Moana, tells her the ocean was wrong when it declared her the chosen one, and bounces. Moana is alone at sea, lost and alone in the dark. The only thing that can save her from self-defeat is by having a ghostly pep-talk, much like the one in…
The Lion King
About 2/3 into both films, our protagonists start feeling like losers that can’t complete their missions. That’s when Rafiki takes Simba out to a clearing where the ghost of his father, Mufasa, comes to give him an Obi-Wan in the forest pep talk. Moana on the other hand, gets a visit from her grandma, who boards the boat to tell her that she’s still awesome and needs to just keep practicing. Sure, we only have one Lion King moment in this film versus the multiple examples from other movies. But the scene where Mufasa’s ghost appears in the sky and talks to Simba is so important and impactful, it makes it difficult not to associate the Grandmother Ghost portion of Moana to that in Lion King.
So, all in all, those are our prime Disney moments. However, Moana did spark up some visuals from other cartoons to me. Inspired by…stolen…who are we to judge? But below are some honorable mentions whose scenes are just a little too close to ignore.
Ferngully: The Last Rainforest
For the sake of time, I’m going to break the remaining movies down a little quicker. But did anyone else see the clear tie-ins between Moana and Ferngully: The Last Rainforest? Let’s check it out.
First, we have Moana and Krysta, both Chosen Ones sent on missions to save their people by an older, more powerful Mentor. For Moana, it’s Grandma. For Crysta, it’s the ancient high-fairy, Magi Loon.
Characterizing nature is the driving force that rids the villain from the inside out. In both movies, a big scary lava-monster has a piece of nature stuck in it and nature is the force that heals them. Granted, Te’Ka became ashen when her heart was stolen, while Hexxus from Ferngully is sealed when a fertile seed causes a tree to grow around him. But once he is gone, the earth begins to heal and the imagery is quite similar to Te’Fiti healing the lands in Moana. So basically, the whole ending.
Raggedy Ann and Andy: A Musical Adventure
I saw some similarities between The Greedy and the Sparkle Crab, Tamatoa. Both live in pits. Neither can ever get enough, and sing about it. Both are after a heart, though the Greedy wants a “sweetheart” and thinks Raggedy Ann’s candy heart will do. The Crab wants new treasure and wants to take the sparkly Heart of Te’fiti after discovering Moana has it.
After each learn of the heart-like possession, they try to eat Raggedy Ann and Moana, respectively. And both the Greedy and Sparkle-Crab get never get enough of their respective vice.
Raggedy Ann: Never Get Enough
You can give me candy, cotton candy, chocolate bar or lollipop.
Fill me up on ice cream, dripping fudge sauce, butterscotch and nuts that never stop!
Feed me gobs and gushes of your most de-luscious stuff,
But without a sweetheart, I never get enough.
Yet I have to give you credit for my start
And your tattoos on the outside
For just like you I made myself a work of art I’ll never hide; I can’t, I’m too
Watch me dazzle like a diamond in the rough
Strut my stuff; my stuff is so
Send your armies but they’ll never be enough
My shell’s too tough
And at last, our most honorable of heroic mentions goes to the scene where Moana goes full Sailor Moon by healing our villain with love instead of destroying her. In fact, the moment when she gives Te’Ka a loving hand and the light breaks through the monster reminded me much of the moment when Sailor Moon takes Sailor Galaxia’s hand and frees her from the evil Chaos in her body.
It’s a good thing our movie and our journey is complete, because I’m maxed out! Did we miss anything? Did you see any similarities that weren’t mentioned? Did I take it to a crazy place and there’s really no substance here at all? Whatever the case, that’s the beautiful of movies and art- giving us something to talk about and make connections with.
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