Last Friday evening, my family and I did something we never do: We sat down and watched a movie together.

I seldom watch TV and movies anymore, because I can now hear–and mostly reject–the slew of stories whispering cacophonous from behind any roaring “main” one. I chose to watch this one because I’m bombarded by its music–thanks, neighbors!–many evenings, and wanted to know the context for its songs.

The movie inspired my seven-year-old to ask two beautiful questions, which came back to me as I rewatched it alone this morning. I smiled and thought that I’d like to share those questions, and how I answered them.

If you’ve already watched Moana or don’t care about spoilers, please read on!

Over the last year or so, I’ve come to see brands like Disney in a new light. They do bring joy to many, of course, but that is the loud story they want to be heard; beneath that, rumbling deep and wide as with so many transnational corporations, are the stories of lands and life sacrificed to bring a few people relatively shallow joy. Their “brand” is not mouse ears and happiness to me; it’s devastation.

And yet, in a world where so much is grim, it’s important for me to seek what is joyous. To find what glimmers I can, and to appreciate there’s very little in this world that is either all good or all bad. Disney can and does do good things, too.

So I watched Moana, thinking it might be good for a laugh, at least.

It ended up giving me so much more than that.

Created by Disney, it nevertheless told layers of stories I want to hear. Stories I need my children to hear, about the Earth and the joy in wildness.

To demonstrate this, I’ll share my son’s first question. “Can you tell me stories about my ancestors, Mom?”

I choked back tears as I explained how few such stories I can tell. His dad’s people were stolen from their own lands and told all kinds of wrong stories about who they were and what they were capable of; they resisted the stories and found ways to keep whispering truer ones, but many of those stories have not reached us.

My ancestors, I explained, were part of a system of colonizers and exploiters. The colonizers’ mindset that some people are worth more than others demonstrates itself as still quite active ways in myriad ways today. And yet there were acts of love and sacrifice; I need look only one generation back–to my own mom–to see the hardy, grace-filled beauty that grows within oppressive systems. There are so many other stories I will never know.

That’s not the end of it, I wanted to say, but I couldn’t even explain my tenuous understanding about something even deeper.

I said he should ask his grandma and great grandma to tell some of their stories. They’d love to share!

Fortunately, Li’l D’s second question brought me to my fuller answer. As the movie ended, with Moana and her people setting out to voyage, my face was lit up by what my husband calls a “shit-eating grin.” My heart was soaring over the ocean, too; not on the screen, but in my primal memory.

“Why are they leaving the island when they have everything they need?” he asked.

“Because they have almost everything they need, not everything.” I fumbled for how to explain this, to myself and to a seven-year-old.

“Her people were voyagers. Voyaging is in their blood. So, on an island, they can meet their immediate physical needs, but not their deep yearning for voyage.”

I can’t remember exactly what he asked next, but I replied, “There’s this writer, George Monbiot, who might say it’s a ‘template.’ Our forebears did certain things over and over, built certain responses and memories that helped guide them through certain situations for millennia. These things became part of our instincts, our selves, a kind on memory that’s passed between generations.”

I told Li’l D about how reading Monbiot’s Feral was the first time I’d ever seen in writing a particular kind of my own dreams. Monbiot, had become “ecologically bored” within the constrained, intentionally cultivated, ever tidier environs of people who fear wildness. He went out, then, and sought wildness, working to fulfill primal needs that can’t be met within suburbs.

One story he shared was of coming face to face with a dolphin. The way he described it evoked something deep within me. That story was in my soul, too, in my primal memory, even before I spent a summer researching killer whales in British Columbia. Before I watched a mother feed her still-orange newborn calf below where I stood on a cliff.

I’d dream of the whales before I’d ever seen them with my eyes; cities would be submerged and I’d swim between buildings alongside orca, briefly sharing their wild. Being wild. Being, unconstrained.

When I read Monbiot’s dolphin story, I’d just had my first orca dream in years. With that dream still fresh within me, I exulted to be reading about like dreams–sleeping and waking, overt and subconscious–written by someone else thousands of miles away. Someone who’s created the kind of life that enables him to tell these tales to people like me who have this yearning that might otherwise go to death without ever having found words.

In Feral‘s introduction, Monbiot writes, “sustaining the morale of people engaged in any political struggle requires a positive vision. It is not enough to know what you are fighting against: you must also know what you are fighting for. An ounce of hope is a more powerful stimulant than a ton of despair.”

In Moana, I found much more than an ounce of hope.

I saw recognition that most human successes involve webs and networks of people working together, not–as so many Western stories mislead–heroic individuals accomplishing awesome things by virtue of being so individually awesome.

I saw recognition in the joy not of possession but of voyage. Of doing and seeing with eyes wide open, not to exploit or constrain or conquer, but to do the things our hearts know our ancestors did even if their individual stories didn’t reach us in words.

Naomi Klein wrote about mothering her young son, “I figure that my job is to try to create as many positive experiences as possible that will attach him to the natural world. You need to love something first, before you can protect and defend it.”

As I watched both Moana and the wonder it evoked in my sons, my heart soared. In Moana‘s beautiful depictions of earth and nature, of enjoyment without a mindset of conquest, there they were: the seeds of sustaining love.

  1. July 2, 2017 at 10:45 am

    We watched that movie shortly after my wife’s dad passed away. Moana’s connection with her Grandmother was very touching and brought up many memories itself. I’ve been asking my own grandmother (she’s 88) questions through snail mail for some time now. I love hearing the history of our family.

  2. July 7, 2017 at 3:50 pm

    I love your reflection on this movie and pulling a deeper meaning from it. This post made me want to rewatch with your thoughts in mind. Also, just great to read your blog again! I took a very long break from WordPress still trying to figure out what my life is in CA.

  1. July 7, 2017 at 2:22 pm
  2. July 14, 2017 at 4:15 am
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