Consider the Coconut: Moana and Family Philanthropy

Catchy doesn’t even begin to describe Disney’s Moana. It’s got all the makings of a great children’s movie — beautiful animation, quirky sidekicks, and the classic “coming of age” tale. 

But Moana isn’t any typical “coming of age” story! What makes her unique also makes her a great model for intergenerational philanthropy. Hear me out…

The first song is essentially about the power of place. Her father (and chief) asks her to respect her community (its traditions, culture, and natural resources). He explains to her: this is where you belong, this is your legacy. But at the same time, he’s also asking her to resign her curiosities in order to fulfill her duties as future chief. 

This tension between family and freedom, land and sea, serves as the fundamental plot device. True to the “coming of age” plot formula, Moana embarks on a journey to find the right balance. 

Unlike other Disney movies, like The Little Mermaid and Mulan, Moana actually does return to her family and she cultivates a new hybrid identity for herself and her family. Where Ariel never returns home and Mulan returns only to resume a life put on hold during her adventures, Moana and her parents blend their values together and begin a new lifestyle that reflects those shared values

Lucky for us, Moana also gives us so many hints about how to replicate her success in our own family philanthropy. 

#1 Learning the Legacy

Moana’s parents articulate the values of her family and community to her. She learns from multiple family members about her family history and traditions. This helps Moana to feel a sense of connection to the legacy and belonging within the family. 

(photo credit: The Walt Disney Company)

#2 Bonding with Extended Family

This is Moana’s grandmother, Tala. Tala’s strong relationship with Moana reaffirms her ties in the family but also offers different perspectives about the legacy, which helps Moana to form her own opinions. 

(photo credit: The Walt Disney Company)

#3 Taking on Traditions

Moana’s grandmother also helps her to reach deep into the past to find a forgotten tradition. This tradition empowers Moana to pursue her adventure and to see herself as a part of a lineage of resillent leaders. 

(photo credit: The Walt Disney Company)

#4 Finding a Non-family Mentor

For all of his antics, Maui is a mentor to Moana. He teaches her the technical skills that she needs to succeed in her journey. But he also teaches her skills she couldn’t learn within her family, which means that when she returns home she can offer something new and useful to her community. 

(photo credit: The Walt Disney Company)

#5 Leaning on Friends

This is HeiHei. He mostly runs into stuff and serves as comedic relief. It may seem unimportant, but having friends and peers is so important when the journey gets too overwhelming for Moana to handle. 

(photo credit: The Walt Disney Company)

#6 Practicing Trust and Adaptability

Even though her parents disagree with Moana at the outset of her journey, they realize that their ties are more important than their differences. In the end we see a family and a community that are willing to adapt to Moana’s leadership and integrate her values with theirs because they trust she has the interest of the island at heart. 

(photo credit: The Walt Disney Company)

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