“I know who you are / Who you truly are”

For generations, Moana and her people have practiced regenerative Indigenous agriculture on islands that provide them all the food, fiber, and fuel they need to survive (sustainability). One day, however, a life-killing darkness arrives, destroying all-important coconut trees, fish, and other marine life. The ocean itself—an amorphous, anthropomorphized character in the film (see animism, nature’s agency)—calls on Moana to resolve the ecological crisis. Moana embarks on a journey to restore the word’s relationship with the creation goddess Te Fiti. She must find the demi-god Maui and make him return the heart of Te Fiti he had stolen, thereby upsetting nature’s balance. Moana and Maui cross the ocean to face Te Kā, the dangerous lava monster who guards Te Fiti’s resting place. During the face-off, Moana discovers that Te Kā is in fact Te Fiti herself—transformed by rage at the theft of her heart. Moana sympathizes with the goddess, who allows her to get close enough to return the heart. Te Fiti emerges in her verdant splendor and harmony is restored to the islands. The world is whole again.

Moana encourages young people to think about youth activism and marine conservation in the face of accelerating ecosystem breakdown. The disaster in the film takes the form of a magical marine pollution that requires a magical solution (see magical solutionism). While the ecological catastrophe is presented not as a systemic issue but as an outcome of individual choicesMaui alone causes the problem, and Moana alone resolves it—the film succeeds in communicating the importance of ecocentrism: caring for the planet is caring for our own wellbeing. Specifically, Moana’s choice to resolve the problem through an emotional connection with a traumatized Mother Nature representation of nature embodies ecofeminist themes (see Gaia, Mother Nature, Earth, Pachamama). It affirms that solutions to the climate crisis require compassion rather than violence, restoration rather than separation, caring rather than power (see CLiCK, care). These themes show in climactic scene. Unlike Maui—whose attack on Te Kā brings only more destruction and violence—Moana approaches Te Kā with compassion. She recognizes the monster as grieving Te Fiti and sings: “I know your name. / 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… who you truly are.” As she returns the heart of Te Fiti, the lava creature transforms back into a goddess of nature (see regeneration, ecological restoration). Moana’s empathy and respectful relationship with non-human nature allows her to see the solution. That Te Fiti holds Moana, literally, in the palm of her hand reinforces the message: non-human nature is a complex, historical being that humans should treat with the respect it deserves (see the Rights of Nature).

Why was Te Fiti’s heart stolen in the first place? And what is it? Maui claims to have taken the heart so that humans could use it to create new life. In this sense the heart may represent natural resources humans extract without considering the cost of environmental devastation. In returning the heart to Mother Nature, Moana asserts that humans are not above nature (see anthropocentrism). We are within and part of nature (see ecocentrism, interconnectedness, web of life). The film raises important questions about the relationship between gender, ecology, and human interventions into climate crises. Despite the magical framing, Disney hints that ecological devastation can be caused by unchecked greed for what is then passed as “progress.”

  • What other characters in the film would you consider to be ecofeminist? How do you know?
  • How would Moana be different if the protagonist weren’t an ecofeminist?
  • Have you ever felt that you were seeing “eye-to-eye” with nature? What was it like?

©2021-23 ClimateLit (Sara Austin and Emily Midkiff with later edits by Nick Kleese)

Publisher: Disney, 2016

Pages: 103 min.

ISBN: n/a

Audience: Little People (4-7), Questers (8-13)

Format: Films

Topics: Animism, Anthropocentrism, CLICK Framework, Earth Care, Earth's Aliveness, Ecocentrism, Ecofeminism, Ecological Collapse, Ecological Restoration, Fantastic Solutionism, Gaia, Individual Action, Interconnectedness, Marine Conservation, Marine Ecosystems, Mother Earth, Natural Resources, Nature's Agency, Pachamama, Regeneration, Regenerative Agriculture, Rights of Nature, Sustainability, Web of Life, Youth Climate Activism