We know the way


It’s 10:37 PM on a Wednesday night, and I should be asleep. But I’m lying on the edge of my bed at an extremely uncomfortable angle, watching this video with the sound softly turned down so Mr. B, who is downstairs, doesn’t hear my secret shame.

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I cannot express how much joy this video clip, set to this song, brings me. Each time I watch it, I become more hopeful and jubilant about the idea of self-determination, hard work, and human progress. After a particularly dark couple of months, every time I watch this video, I start believing in humanity again.

What is most amazing to me about this clip is the history it represents. I am embarrassed to say that, before I watched Moana, I - The Great Multiculturalist- had zero idea about the South Pacific.

The only things I knew about Polynesian culture were that my Fiji bottled water is a sham, and that Gauguin got a venereal disease in Tahiti.

Specifically, I was completely ignorant of the great Polynesian migration between islands in the Pacific Ocean, starting around 300 AD. Due to overcrowding on older islands, or simply because people always have a need to move, Polynesians made their way over millions of square miles of ocean, all the way from New Zealand, to Hawaii. They navigated and oriented themselves using the stars, ocean currents, winds, and STICKS.

MINISCULE WATER MOVEMENTS. AND STICKS. I, as a modern human who gets stressed out every time her GPS navigation blips for a couple milliseconds, cannot fathom this.

Why did no one in school tell me that humans were doing incredible things? Why did we never study Polynesia? Every time I watch “We Know the Way,” I get exponentially happier about the idea of human potential, and exponentially more angry at the American education system.

In any case, Moana fills in the gaps. The movie is very big on expounding the idea of Polynesian self-determination, voyaging, and navigation/way-finding in a way that’s easy to understand. After years of missteps, they’ve finally found their way back to good, magical movie making. I still cannot get Shiny out of my head (“You little semi-demi minigod”).

To be fair, Disney has had some really good outings lately, with Inside Out and Zootopia. But, for some reason, Moana is the one that’s stuck with me. Everything about it seems less…gimmicky than a Disney movie usually is? A girl is the main character, but her story doesn’t seem like a forced march through uber-feminism. There’s an environmental story, but it doesn’t seem alarmist and dire. The story evolves naturally. The villains are more fleshed out,the heroes less like cartoons and more like real people. The story is based on years of meticulous cultural research, and seems to be true to life in a way that doesn’t make real Polynesians cringe. The ocean shimmers with amazing accuracy.

Disney is growing up. Or rather out, into movies that are, literally and figuratively, more three-dimensional, more representative of real life, and, now, chances for kids - and uncultured adults like me - to learn more about the real potential for humanity and be inspired to go as far as their minds will take them - in my case, straight to sleep, because my phone was almost out of battery.