Theme: The One True Story
In November 2016 Walt Disney Studios released Moana, their latest addition to a long string of blockbuster animated musical films. Combining the directorial skills of Ron Clements (Little Mermaid, Aladdin, Princess and The Frog) with the musical talents of Mark Mancina (Lion King) and Lin-Manuel Miranda (Hamilton), Moana soared to the top of the box office charts. The tale of a spunky Polynesian Princess and her beefy sidekick, Maui, captivated audiences and may well bring Disney another Oscar for Best Animated Film.
In The Beginning
Anytime a story opens with “In the beginning”, it is wise to pay careful attention to just what story is being told. This simple phrase is the English translation of the Hebrew word bereshith, the word which opens the Bible in Genesis 1:1; In the beginning God created the heavens and earth.
It would be easy to say Moana is just a pagan “creation myth”. The mother island, Te Fiti, has her heart stolen by a demi-god to give to humans the power to create life etc. However, what the Post-Modern world living without any meta-narrative of its own needs to know and understand is that all pagan creation myths pointed to, and were corruptions of, the one “true myth”, the world’s one true story.1
Creation: There was once a world of beauty without corruption.
Fall: Something happened to bring death to all creation.
Redemption: What is needed is the saving of creation from sin and evil.
The Chosen One
The call to be the deliverer of her people comes to Moana as a small child. Helping a baby turtle get to the ocean, the toddler spies an interesting object and follows it right into the sea. The waters part for her and she literally walks on dry land pursuing the long lost heart of TeFiti. When the ocean gently touches her on the head she is baptized as the chosen one who will redeem her people and restore creation.
Years later after failing in her own strength to go “beyond the reef”, her grandmother/mentor tells her there is one story she needs to know. Hidden within a cave on the island are great sailing ships from long ago. When Moana bangs the drum, the torches light and the story of her people comes to life. They were voyagers who sailed the seas and brought life to the islands created by TeFiti. When the mother island’s heart was stolen, darkness came and the voyaging stopped. Now her people have forgotten who they are. Moana has been chosen to go on a Hero’s Journey to ultimately meet and defeat darkness and death and thus restore her people to their original glory and vocation.
If any of this story sounds familiar, it’s because it is patterned after one of the world’s most famous stories, Moses and The Exodus. The baby Moses is chosen to be the deliverer of his people, he goes through an early baptism of sorts, is raised in royalty which he rejects. Venturing out into the desert after discovering the true identity of his people, he has an encounter with God, is given a staff of power (note Moana’s oar) and returns to Egypt to confront the powers of darkness. He is protected from death by the blood of the lamb, and leads his people out of bondage and slavery walking on dry land through the Red Sea.
The Israelites are journeying (voyaging) to the Promised Land, the recapitulation of Eden where they will live with their God and return to their original vocation of being reflectors of his glory.
In the beginning always means some new and unheard of order emerging out of chaos, a new creation; it was in Genesis, in Exodus, and in the New Testament (John 1:1). New Creation means a second chance; for the old creation, under condemnation and death, is passing away and what is needed is new life. How or where does it begin? With the birth of a small child. If Moses and the Exodus is the pattern, the Incarnation of Jesus Christ is the fulfillment.
The Gospels all tell the story of the infant child chosen and marked out as the world’s one true deliverer who goes down into Death itself to defeat the power of Sin and Satan once and for all. He puts to right the world at its core, then setting the captives free he leads them into the New Creation which began the moment he rose from the dead.
Moana’s end scenes are so beautiful because they are the renewal of all things, the restoration of glory. The people are back in the story they were created for, doing what they were created to do before the darkness came. All of this was made possible because their young queen laid aside her royal robes and won the victory over death and darkness by the greatest power of all . . . love.
That is something to sing about!
Professor Rolland Hein of Wheaton College calls myth “stories which confront us with something transcendent . . . the eternal expressing itself in time.” This high meaning of myth was reduced after The Enlightenment to its current popular meaning of an untrue story.