The Epic of Moana
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The Epic of Moana

An analysis of the hero's journey in Disney's new movie.

The Epic of Moana
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Everyone has heard of the Epic of Odysseus, or Achilles, or maybe Gilgamesh. Dating back from ancient times, the style of the epic has been present in narratives for basically as long as stories have been told. And it’s pretty awesome to see how even modern day well-known stories like Star Wars and Harry Potter are actually examples of epics too. And that was one of the first things I thought coming out of the new Disney movie, Moana, that it was a perfect example of an epic! Specifically, of the hero’s journey, one of the defining features of epic stories. If you haven’t seen the movie, I’d recommend skipping this one, because I’m going to go through the majority of the plot for this analysis. Also, though, if you haven’t, go see it right now!

Joseph Campbell, a mythological researcher, outlined the steps and motifs of the hero’s journey in his book, and while there are different variations of it, these are the basics. The really cool thing is that Polynesian mythology plays a huge role in the story of Moana, like the myths of the demigod Maui, and so it just makes sense that it would follow the narrative of an epic. So without further ado, here’s my analysis of the story of the epic of Moana!

1. The Ordinary World

“Moana, it’s time you knew, the village of Motonui is all you need.”

There is always a distinction between the ordinary world and the special world. In Moana’s case, the ordinary world is her island and village. At the beginning of the movie we’re introduced to this world, along with its traditions and customs. As is often the case with Disney heroes and heroines, Moana is not completely happy where she is, although she tries to be.

2. The Call To Adventure

“See that line where the sky meets the sea, it calls me!”

There’s literally an entire musical number about the call to adventure. In Moana’s case, there is a literal threshold between the ordinary and special world: the reef. The barrier that separates her island from the rest of the ocean. Moana feels this tug from the ocean, this call to leave the ordinary world behind and embark on the adventure she has been chosen for.

3. Refusal Of The Call

In the scene where Moana tries to cross the reef, but is stopped by the heavy waves, and forced to return, she decides that her father was right, the ocean is far too dangerous, and for a bit, refuses the call. It is only through the encouragement of her grandmother, who plays the role of the mentor, that she decides to eventually accept the call and cross the threshold.

4. Accepting the Call and Crossing the Threshold

“Every turn I take, every trail I track, is a choice I make, now I can’t turn back”

And so finally, Moana actually crosses the threshold, the reef, from the ordinary into the special, and her own hero’s journey begins across the ocean. As she enters the special world, or the unknown, she learns the rules of the new world and goes through a series of tests as she strives towards her goal.

5. Supernatural Aid

In these stories there is often help in the form of some sort of supernatural ally or assister. The aid doesn’t necessarily have to be magical, but is often supernatural of some kind. In Moana’s case, it takes the form of her grandmother Tala, who gives her the information and the object she needs to complete her quest, without actually going on it with her. The Ocean also plays a big role in aiding Moana in her quest, and could definitely be considered supernatural aid.

6. Talisman

A talisman is a special and often magical item that assists the hero on their quest. In Moana, the heart of Te Fiti could play this role, as it is vital to the success of their quest. Also, Maui’s magical hook is a talisman in that it too helps them to succeed.

7. Allies/Helpers

Moana is eventually able to team up with the demigod Maui, and he helps her to complete the quest. (Of course, it was kind of all his fault in the first place but we can ignore that) Maui plays the role of the ally in Moana’s journey, helping her along the way, and saving her life, so that she couldn’t do it without him.

8. Tests

The hero in their journey progress through a series of tests or ordeals as they strive to complete their quest. These test the hero and make them stronger as they face enemies or other perils to prepare them for the final showdown. In Moana, the two main tests are the fights against the Kakamora and Tamatoa, the crab king, both of whom are trying to stop them in their goal to return the heart.

9. The Supreme Ordeal

And here is the sort of climax of the journey, in this case, the fight against Te Ka, and the final showdown. It is the main obstacle, the last large threat the hero or heroes have to face. At this part in the movie, they try and fail the first time, and it is only through more supernatural aid, through Moana’s grandmother and ancestors, that she is able to find the courage inside her to answer the call of the ocean, and continue on her quest to save her people.

10. Reward and Return

After passing the final test, or the greatest ordeal, the hero then receives some sort of reward for their actions. In Moana, this reward is basically saving her island, and other islands from the darkness, and restoring the heart of Te Fiti. She succeeds in her quest, and can now safely return home and cross the threshold again back to the ordinary world.

11. Restoring the World

The hero then returns to the ordinary world with whatever life changing thing they have accomplished, and in Moana’s case she saves her people and her island, and can return triumphantly and safely. The world is restored, the people are saved, and the adventure is over!

I though it was incredibly cool to see this narrative style from ancient times used in the story of Disney's latest princess, and while it definitely isn't the only thing that makes this movie absolutely phenomenal, I do think it was a big part of why I loved it so much. I mean, all the Disney princesses might be cool, but could any of the others be considered an epic hero?

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.
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