Moana: An Example Of Self-Knowledge And Selfless Heroism

by Family, Movie Reviews and Recommendations

Most of us are well versed in the typical Disney princess movie: Prince Charming, Damsel-in-distress, sleeping-spells, dragons, and evil witches. Belle’s bravery, Snow White’s friendliness, and Cinderella’s well-rewarded hard work aren’t diminished by the fact that they ended up with a handsome prince, but is “happily ever after” only possible with that storyline?

In 2013, Frozen flipped our familiar “Once upon a times” upside-down first when Hans betrays Anna while engaged and later when the heroic act of true love is not romantic, but instead a sisterly love. Now, Moana shows us a happy ending without any princes or princesses at all.

As Catholics, the movie should make us wonder who we are made to be.  What obstacles we can overcome to help others for the glory of our Heavenly King? The best way to find out who you are is to ask God and listen to His response. The best way to love is to actively seek the good for those around you—princess, prince, family, or fire monster.

First of all, who are you? Deeper knowledge of yourself is liberating. For instance, in Moana’s case, knowing herself drives a sense of purpose to save her people.

“If you wear a dress and have an animal sidekick, you’re a princess,” Maui tells Moana while they float in the ocean.

She insists, “I’m not a princess. I’m the chief’s daughter.”

This may seem like mere humorous dialogue, but it shows that Moana knows who she is. She discovers what she is meant to do by speaking to her grandmother, learning about her ancestors, and interacting with the world around her. The ocean is a friend to her in a very unique way, and she has a special calling in her community–not only to be the chief’s daughter, but to accept the responsibility of saving her people.

In this way, Moana reflects this verse from 1 Peter 4:10: “As each one has received a gift, use it to serve one another as good stewards of God’s varied grace.” While there is no explicit Catholicism on display in the film, Moana’s liberating self-knowledge that frees her from her island is comparable to our saints!

Each of our brother and sister saints came to know themselves by talking to God and through prayerful reflection. If you have a chance, participate in an Ignatian silent retreat or a similar spiritual exercise to break free from worldly distractions and deepen your own sense of identity; thus, you will realize God’s purpose in your own life.

As St. Teresa of Avila writes in her Interior Castle: “I believe we shall never learn to know ourselves except by endeavouring to know God, for, beholding His greatness we are struck by our own baseness, His purity shows our foulness, and by meditating on His humility we find how very far we are from being humble.”

With this self-knowledge comes a self-less mission.

More than just saving her tribe from their decaying island, Moana helps her tribe understand themselves. They were meant to navigate the seas and explore islands—not stay in one place and fear the ocean. Also, Moana helps Maui accept that his magical hook does not define him; with or without it, he is still Maui. Through Moana’s selfless bravery, we discover that Te Kā–the fire monster–is actually Te Fiti herself and we watch her transformation.

“They have stolen the heart from inside you, but this does not define you…this is not who you are. You know who you are,” Moana sings to Te Fiti. Returning Te Fiti’s heart was an immense act of mercy. There is a domino effect: acts of mutual help allow others to become closer to their “happily ever after”–Moana, Maui, Te Fiti, and the whole tribe.

For the Catholic, this would mean knowing yourself and selflessly helping others through imitation of Christ’s mercy. Friends and family help us understand who we are, and we have a responsibility to ourselves and others to be who God made us to be. No matter who you are, one thing is certain: “The world promises you comfort, but you were not made for comfort. You were made for greatness” (Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI).

Whether your story involves a prince, a dragon, a witch, or an oceanic odyssey, you are meant for an adventure with a heavenly “happily ever after.” Saints come in all forms–some are made for brave acts like St. Joan of Arc, while others are made for equally important but quieter acts like St. Therese of the Child Jesus. Like Moana, leave your comfort zone and find the saintly path for which you are made.


Discussion Questions

  1. What “island” do you need to leave to stretch your comfort zone and find the greatness you are made for? In what way does your confirmation saint (or favorite saint) reflect this courage?
  2. In what ways can you know yourself better to better serve the Lord by serving those around you? (Reflect on the works of mercy, both spiritual and corporal.)
  3. What preconceived notions of love or “happily ever afters” are keeping you from living your adventure to its fullest or appreciating those around you in the here and now?
  4. Do you consider yourself a prince/princess? Why? Reflect on Galatians 3:25-27: “But now that faith has come we are no longer under a slave looking after us; for all of you are the children of God, through faith, in Christ Jesus, since every one of you that has been baptized has been clothed in Christ.”
  5. If you realized that someone you perceive to be an enemy was really in need of help, would you be that person (like Moana was to Te Fiti) to be Christ-like to them?


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