Moana is a coming of age story of a young girl on an island nation. She is the chief’s daughter and she has her future as chief planned out for her should she choose to accept it. Unfortunately, that future involves never leaving the island. As the island begins to die, Moana goes against her father’s wishes and leaves the island in hopes of saving her community. Moana fights many battles against her parents, society, as well as a few supernatural beings on her way to find herself and save her home, and music helps guide Moana on her journey.
“Where You Are” is one of the first songs in the movie, and it explains many of the ideas central to the plot. This includes showing Moana’s roots and explaining the past of the island. It also establishes the idea that Moana is curious about traveling past the island despite the fact that it is against tradition. Many of the important moments in the movie occur through song and this is true of “Where You Are”. In the song, Moana’s grandmother sings that she believes Moana should do whatever her heart wishes even if that means leaving the island. This early on song creates a groundwork for how the characters interact with one another.
At the beginning of the film one of the main conflicts is an internal struggle Moana has with leaving the island. In the song “How Far I’ll Go” Moana runs back and forth between the island and the ocean contemplating what to do. She repeatedly says that the ocean calls her but that she understands she has duties at home. She says,” I know everybody on this island, has a role on this island, so maybe I can roll with mine” as she runs up the chief’s mountain to put a rock on top of the pile signifying her acceptance of her role as chief. But, she can’t do it instead she runs to the ocean and pretends to row on a raft until finally pushing it into the water. Moana will never be able to rule the island without exploring the sea. Unfortunately, the sea rejects her. Once she is past the reef she is thrown back to the island nearly drowning during the ordeal. However, this song remains crucial because it allows the audience to now fully understand how deep Moana’s relationship with the ocean is. Her love for both her island and the ocean tears her apart, and she wishes she didn't have to choose.
Moana’s entire life she was told that her people have never left the island. This was used as a fact to deter her curiosity of what lies beyond the reef. All of that changes when her grandmother encourages her to explore a cave on the island. “We Know The Way” is the song sung by Moana’s ancestors when she finds the hidden boats. This is a song of revelation. Her entire life Moana was told that her people don’t leave the island and this song shows her something that she has sought for her life. It shows her that leaving the island doesn't go against her history as she had been told, but that her ancestors were in fact voyagers. “We Know The Way” is considered to be one of the best songs in the movie and is up for an Oscar. The song establishes ethos in the movie because it was written by Hamilton playwright Lin Manuel Miranda.
A crucial character to the story is Maui. Legend had it that Maui is a villain because he stole the heart of Nefertiti and that was why Moana’s island was beginning to die. After Moana’s grandmother gives her the heart of Nefertiti the next step is to find Maui because he has to be the one to return the heart. She has a speech prepared for when she finds him but is unable to say it for he immediately breaks into the song, “You’re Welcome”. Maui explains through this song that he has only helped humans by bringing them the sun, and creating the breeze among other things. This goes against what she has previously believed and establishes that Maui is no longer a villian. It is not a direct path but Maui does go on to significantly help Moana on her journey to returning the heart of Nefertiti. This song introduces us to a major character in the movie.
When I first saw Moana I cried. The tears came during the song “I Am Moana”. “I Am Moana” is a very passionate and raw song between Moana and her grandmother. The song plays while Moana is trying to return the heart of Nefertiti and she is facing many challenges. Moana is ready to give up and return to the island, but her grandmother comes to her in the form of a stingray and reminds Moana of her strength. Moana’s grandmother passed away shortly before Moana left on this journey and her presence to Moana is supernatural. This song empowers Moana to continue on her mission. Throughout the song Moana is reminded of who she is by her grandmother,
Moana then sings a similar line back to Grandma Tata and it is clear that her confidence in herself has been restored and that she will continue her journey.
The songs in Moana are pleasing to the ear, but they also serve an important purpose in explaining to the audience what is happening, as well as furthering the plot. Moana does not have a large amount of dialogue and the truly influential scenes in the movie are told through song. Moana contemplating leaving the island, Moana learning of the true history of her island, and Moana’s mission are all told through song. Songs also help set the scene as many of the songs have elements of pacific islander culture. This movie has been recognized by the Oscars for its songs and it is clear that without this soundtrack the movie would not have been received with the same level of popularity. Moana is prime example of how a soundtrack can elevate a movie to new heights.