My husband and I saw “Moana” opening weekend, and overall I really enjoyed the movie. Gorgeous visuals, fun characters, great humor…on the downside, the songs weren’t particularly memorable, and something about the plot struck me as awfully familiar. I thought it was just because Disney liked to stick to certain cinematic formulas, despite its effort to “break the rules” this time by having no love interest for the heroic princess and instead focusing on her quest.
After thinking about it for a while, it suddenly dawned on me why this story seemed so familiar: “Moana” is Disney’s “Lord of the Rings.”
So you’re probably thinking, “Huh? How so?” One takes place in a fictional Polynesian paradise. One takes place in a fictional Celtic/Nordic fantasy world. One hero is a young chieftain’s daughter with a thirst for adventure; one is a Hobbit who is reluctant to be the bearer of the One Ring. But once you start looking at the two stories, there are some interesting parallels that occur (warning: spoilers ahead!):
1. The One Ring vs. The Heart of Te Fiti - There is a small yet powerful magic item that the hero must wear around his/her neck while returning it to the origin of the item’s creation in order to restore balance to the world. Item also has special carving/engraving on it.
2. Mount Doom vs. Te Ka - The hero must return item to the lava from whence it came.
3. Goblins vs. Kakamora - Small impish creatures out to steal the magical item, but they’re not smart enough to accomplish the task.
4. Smaug* vs. Tamatoa - Gold-obsessed monster that can be tricked if you distract it with flattery. Tamatoa is even a little bit Gollum in his lust for the Heart of Te Fiti; you can see the craving in his eyes when Moana shows it to him.
*Note: yes, I know Smaug is from “The Hobbit” but it’s part of the LOTR story arc.
5. Sauron vs. Te Ka – The main villain is a huge, fiery-eyed creature that can’t outright speak or move from the area it's confined to, but it does its best to keep heroes from getting to their goal destination.
6. Magical fish hook vs. Sting - One of the heroes has a magical weapon enscribed with markings that glow blue when its magic is activated.
7. The Shire vs. Motunui - The hero lives in lush, green paradise that no one ever leaves, until evil presence falls on the land that threatens to destroy them all, and the hero is the only one of his/her people ordained to set out and save the world. Okay, so technically Frodo had Sam, Merry and Pippin come with him, but Frodo was initially the only one given the task to return the ring.
8. The Fellowship vs. Moana, Maui, Heihei and the Ocean– The hero has to gather “special teammates” to complete quest. These include a comedic companion who mostly gets into trouble and eats (Merry and Pippin vs. Heihei), a great, stocky warrior whose bravado exceeds his abilities at times (Gimli vs. Maui) and the one who endlessly supports the hero, encouraging them to go on even in their bleakest moment (Samwise vs. the Ocean).
9. Gandalf vs. Grandmother Tala – There is a wise elder mentor who is considered a bit of a loony outsider by the others in the village, is someone very close to hero, who “dies” during the story but comes back in a magical way to help the hero.
10. The Ending - Hero doesn’t remain living in the homeland he/she saves but goes off in a boat at the end.
So while it’s still to be seen if “Moana” will stand the test of time as a Disney classic, maybe it’ll inspire a few kids to pick up some Tolkien books when they are older.