Saturday, November 26, 2016

Moana [2016]

MPAA (PG)  CNS/USCCB (A-II) (3 1/2 Stars)  AVClub (B+)  Fr. Dennis (3 Stars)

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB (J. McAleer) review
Los Angeles Times (J. Chang) review (C. Lemire) review
AVClub (J. Hassenger) review

Moana [2016] (co-directed by Ron Clements, Don Hall, John Musker and Chris Williams, screenplay by Jared Bush, story by Ron Clements, John Musker, Chris Williams, Don Hall, Pamela Ribon, Aaron Kandell and Jordan Kandell) is a cute, positive and arguably empowering Disney animated feature, that nevertheless would probably cause some initial (and even some  lingering) concern for a fair number of Catholic / Christian parents.  Yet as with all challenges, IMHO it becomes an invitation for Parents and their Families to deepen their understanding of their own Faith, even as as they interact with greater knowledge with their friends and neighbors who may well be of differing Faiths and Cultural traditions.

The story here tells that of a Polynesian Princess heroine named Moana (voiced by Auli'i Cravalho) who is  "Chosen by the Ocean" to "Restore the Original Order of Things" / "Save her People" and it is told from the perspective of the Polynesian Culture from which the story originates.

As such, right at the beginning of the film, Viewers are presented a non-Biblical (Polynesian-inspired) Creation story -- explaining (1) how things began (the Creation of the World as the Sea-Faring Polynesian People knew it) and (2) why things came to be the way they were (how if not Sin then at least Decay entered into the World...).  The introduction sets-up and informs the rest of the story.

At this point Christian Parents could find themselves somewhat challenged as to how to put this story into the context of the Christian Faith that they are trying to teach their kids.  Not only is the Polynesian Creation story rather (but not completely) different from those encountered in the first chapters of Genesis, but the Polynesian Creation story also has different characters:

In the Polynesian inspired Creation story presented: In the Beginning, when the world was but Ocean, it was the Goddess Te Fiti who Brought Life into the World, and then a Demigod named Maui (voiced in the film by Dwayne Johnson) pulled Islands out of the Ocean with his Fishhook on which People could live.     

Christian parents can be reminded here that the very first verse of the Bible begins with: "In the Beginning, when the Earth had no form, God's spirit breathed upon the Waters, and God said ..." (Genesis 1:1-2).  Later that God "made a dome to separate the 'Waters above' from those 'below' and called 'the Waters above Sky" (Genesis 1:6-8) and afterwards, "on the third day", God ordered collected "the Waters below into a single basin to make dry land appear, calling the Land  'Earth' and the Waters 'Sea.'" (Genesis 1:9-10).

I mention this to remind Readers here that the Polynesian inspired Creation story presented in this film is _not_ entirely unlike that of the Biblical one, each inspired, in good part, on the Experiences of the Cultures that invented them.  But I would continue then to _underline_ that there is certainly MORE being SAID in the Biblical Creation story (as probably in the Polynesian one) than simply presenting a "Flow Chart" for the Creation of the World.

This is because the Catholic Church, while appreciating, even Glorying in, the beautiful Symbolic Language of the first chapters of Genesis -- The First Chapter of Genesis is proclaimed in its Entirety as the First Reading at the Easter Vigil each year -- nonetheless considers their "Spirit" (their underlying Theology) more important than the "dead letter" of the Words [cf CCC #390].  What has been understood to be be the "underlying Theology" of the first chapter of Genesis?  That: (1) God Exists, (2) God Created Everything, (3) God Created Everything IN A PURPOSEFUL MANNER and WITH A PURPOSE IN MIND.  Indeed, the structure of the Genesis 1 account appears to be similar and arguably _a response to_ the Babylonian Creation account, the Enuma Elish, which had the world created as an "accidental result" of a "Cosmic War" (basically each time a Babylonian God or Goddess died in the course of the Cosmic Battle, something sprouted out of the Corpse...).  As such, at its core, the Biblical proclamation with regards to the Universe (All That Is) is that the Universe has a God-ordained Purpose / Meaning.  This would distinguish it from any number of other Creation stories interested in simply explaining "how things came to be."  

Further, while it _indeed_ "could be fun" for a Catholic / Christian family to compare Moana, the princess heroine in this film, TO MARY (also a teenager CHOSEN to HELP SAVE THE WORLD) and "demigod" Maui to a combination of Jesus (Son of God), the Greek god Prometheus (who also sought to help people / humanity), and even Lucifer (a powerful angel who got greedy), THE KEY DIFFERENCE between THE CURRENT DISNEY STORY and the STORY OF JESUS is that while FEW / NO ONE would argue that Moana / Maui "really existed" that's EXACTLY what we Christians proclaim about Jesus, THAT HE (and his human mother, Mary) REALLY DID: "The Word became Flesh and dwelt among us." (John 1:14).

Yes, that is AWESOME (in the True sense of the word) -- that Jesus would "embody," indeed INCARNATE God and (all that was Written about God) in our World in himself -- but then that's again EXACTLY what what the Church has Proclaimed about Jesus for 2000 years: that "[Christ Jesus] is the image of the invisible God" [Col 1:15] and was NOT "just a story" ... separating him from any number of other stories about other mythological, legendary or story-book heroes ... like the ones here in this film.

Anyway, "with all that in mind" ;-) ;-) ... enjoy the story here ;-).  It is really cute.  Little kids will _really like_ "the coconut people" ;-).

But please don't let this story (or others like it) "bring down your faith."

Jesus / Our Faith are in a different category ;-).  

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