The Gospel According to Disney’s Moana

Late Sunday night I found out that I would need to come up with a school assembly because the person leading couldn’t make it. So I decided to reflect on something that had occupied my thoughts recently… Disney’s Moana!

I first saw Moana whilst on a plane during the Easter holidays and have owned the DVD since its release a few weeks ago. To be honest, Disney films are something of a guilty pleasure – I look forward to their release more than anything else Hollywood has to offer because I can watch these with my family again and again… and again… and… again!

So what can we learn from Moana when held in the light of the Gospel of 13th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A? Warning: SPOILERS!!!


Baptism & Calling

When Moana was just a little girl she was drawn to the ocean. But her father, the island chief, had banned his people from sailing beyond the reef a short way out to sea. It was Moana’s grandmother that encouraged Moana’s calling and witnessed her ‘Baptism’ by the ocean. Not only was she ‘wet by the waters’ but she is given a personal calling and mission. This is the same as all who are Baptised. However, like many children baptised today, it is Moana’s grandparent that tries to nurture and encourage this calling, whilst her parent continues to frustrate this calling, banning her from leaving the island and responding to this calling as she grows. How many of our young Catholics are baptised because of the encouragement and faith of grandparents in contrast to the apathy of the child’s parents?


Confirmation & Mission

Moana’s people have a problem – death is creeping onto their island killing the fish and coconuts! As she comes of age, Moana suggests that the solution could be found beyond the reef. This is confirmed when her Grandmother introduces her to the history of her people and Moana’s own history – her calling by the ocean. Moana discovers that her people were voyagers with great freedom and prosperity and they roamed the ocean. However, the heart of their goddess who sustained life was stolen and must be returned. This is why death is spreading across the islands.

Through the encouragement of her grandmother, and the connection to the childhood experience of her ‘baptism’, Moana’s mission becomes clear, that she is to return the heart of the goddess. Through her ‘confirmation’, she discovers that the heart of the goddess was given to her at her ‘baptism’ but she never appreciated it because her father never encouraged her and her grandmother was presumed to be crazy.


The Priesthood & The Church

Because of the mission ahead, Moana seeks the help of long estranged demi-god Maui, only to find that he is a self-absorbed, arrogant, ego-maniac who has turned his back on ungrateful mortals. Maui gave so much to man, even to the point of stealing the heart of the goddess Ta Fiti, just to make his people happy. Maui is now isolated and burnt out! I will leave it for you to compare your own parish priest!

However we eventually see another side of Maui too. With the support of Moana he grows in love and charity, teaching her to navigate for herself and equipping her for lay-leadership of her people on return from the mission. Hopefully this is the model of priesthood you experience in your parish!

Without her heart, the goddess Ta Fiti appears to have become a furious lava monster whom cannot be defeated. And it would appear that this is what the Church looks like for those who look from far away. The Church’s teachings and doctrines are seen by many as oppressive and burdensome and so they steer clear. Often this can be because Fr. Maui has stolen her heart in an attempt to keep the people happy, yet all they needed was the life that flowed from her, not token appeasement. But now, removed from her, she appears as an aggressive monster.


Sacramental Grace

It is Moana herself that realises the truth, that this raging lava monster is actually Ta Fiti, the goddess and source of all life. And so rather than fight the monster, she enters into communion with her, restoring her heart. In an instant, what was one moment seen as an enemy and a threat, is now seeing as the maternal source of life she has always been. For those who, in total sincerity, exist in (or return to) communion with the Church, her life giving nature is revealed. We were made for God, and since our Baptism, when God poured into us his grace for the first time, we have been called to live in communion with him. All the Baptised have all been given God’s heart, with the mission of returning to where it came from, and living forever in the new life that flows from this communion.

When the heart of Ta Fiti is returned, life flows out to all the islands and the death and decay that had plighted Moana’s own island is banished as life returns. And Maui gets his mojo back too as he flies off to minister to those mortals in need of his ordained ministry.

The Grace of the Sacraments not only restores us, but it is for the good of the whole world.


The Gospel This Sunday

A tedious link perhaps, but on Sunday we heard Jesus say: ‘Anyone who prefers father or mother… son or daughter to me, is not worthy of me’. These words can challenge us as many of us have grown up putting family first and society has long told us that this is a good a noble thing. Even the 10 Commandments say ‘honour your father and mother’!

Moana’s father is putting the safety of his daughter, his family and all the tribe first when he forbids them to voyage beyond the reef. He genuinely believes that he is doing what’s best for them. This is perhaps true of families today who allow their kids to do football, rugby, dance etc. or whatever else stops them for participating in communion with God in the Eucharist each week. Sometimes it can even be because of the initial rebellion of an older sibling that causes all the others to grow up without the regular nourishment of the Eucharist.

Yet the very best thing we can do for our children is to persevere in encouraging them to fulfil their calling, initiated at baptism. For many it will be left to the crazy, religious grandparents, but in Moana, we see that this is still a major influence.

As communities, as tribes on islands surrounded by contrary cultures, we must remember who we are, our heritage, and the gospel we are now custodians of. We must be good stewards who educate and hand onto the next generation the truth of God and the means by which he still today pours our grace, his life, into our own life.


An insight into what goes through my head whilst watching children’s films! Next up ‘Cars 3’ or ‘Despicable Me 3’?!


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