COCONUTS ARE THE ROOT OF ALL EVIL, and Other Lessons I Learned from Moana

Consider the coconuts
The trunks and the leaves, ha!
The island gives us what we need-
And no one leaves…

I can’t be the only one still geeking out about Disney’s latest flick, Moana. The animation, design, and writing is absolutely gorgeous, while having Moana as a strong independent female archetype seems set to make way for the new Disney formula. And don’t even get me started on that music! Where Let it Go was the main strong song from Frozen, every song in Moana had the same strength and passion. However, there was one song in particular which caught my attention.

…Yes, the fucking coconut song. ‘Where You Are’ has been stuck in my head for weeks, much to the horror and misfortune of anyone within a ten-foot radius of me who can hear my quiet humming. Where once there were friends, there are now strangers wearing earplugs. Where once I had family, I now have a deaf cat and a note saying they’re going away for a *while*… But daaammmnnn is it worth it for that tune!

Now, when I say I enjoy this song on a deep level, I mean it linguistically as well as in terms of subtext. I’m about to show you what I mean (unless you close down this page, in which case screw you too, I don’t need views… *sniffle*).

Let’s start with the beginning, before I loose track of myself and sound even more insane (she says to herself while writing an article about the bloomin’ coconut song)…

From the beginning, we have the feeling of stagnation about the village:

The dancers are practising
They dance to an ancient song

(Who needs a new song?
This old one’s all we need!)

This tradition is our mission
And, Moana, there’s so much to do
Make way!

Instantly, we can see the contrast between old and new things- AKA between Moana’s ideas and the different view of the rest of the village. The dynamic verb ‘practising’ highlights how well-rehearsed life on the island is- nothing has changed there since Maui stole the heart, maybe even before then! The adjectives ‘ancient’ and ‘old’ highlight how set-in-stone these traditions are, giving a sense of longevity to all these powers that Moana is questioning, while the abstract noun ‘mission’ emphasises that her father is taking everything much too seriously- not giving Moana the room to be her own person in between mindless conformity.

Then we see this group of elders tossing lei around baby Moana’s head-

Capture3

You have eyes; you can see they’re covering her mouth, right? This could be symbolic of the older villagers covering up her voice and her individuality with their traditions- they might be beautiful and flowery, but they’re still a form of the mindless conformity that pressures Moana to just stay home and let her island crumble to ashes rather than make her dad a little bit angry but save everybody from the whole ‘dying’ thing.

Speaking of mindless conformity (*makes a joke about high school*)… THE COCONUTS!! Have you considered them lately?

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Consider the coconut
The what?
Consider its tree
We use each part of the coconut
That’s all we need

We make our nets from the fibers
The water is sweet inside
We use the leaves to build fires
We cook up the meat inside

Consider the coconuts
The trunks and the leaves, ha!

The island gives us what we need

Oooooh, where to start here? Everything about this ridiculously catchy chorus emphasises the hive mind of everyone else on the island- the plural pronoun ‘we’ is repeated as if to shove the fact that Moana isn’t really into coconuts or land-lubbering in her face every 5 seconds. People talk about this song like it’s about being happy with what you are and who you and and where you are, but does it sound like it, really?

Also, think about the other point in the movie where coconuts are particularly prominent:

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Coconuts are the root of all evil: CONFIRMED. 

(Apart from that Baymax one on the right. He’s probably chill.)

Then we have the repetition throughout not just the coconut segment, but also the entire song, about such-and-such being ‘all we need’; this highlights the comparatively simple motivations of the villagers- a ‘live and let live’ scenario that provides the initial conflict of the film:

MOANA: ‘Hey dad,  we should probably explore beyond the reef at some point; it looks kinda cool out there.’ (◕‿◕✿)

MR MOANA: ‘NO.’ ఠ_ఠ

MOANA: ‘But-‘

MR MOANA: ‘NO.’ ಠ╭╮ಠ

And so the repetition of ‘coconut’ throughout the song makes the coconuts into more than just food, water, and net-making material; they become a symbol of the inherent division between Moana and the rest of the villagers. Every single coconut is the same, just like every single villager is a writhing mass of optimistic singing and conformity. Where Moana has the natural curiousity that makes her into an excellent independent protagonist, they find strength in numbers in the same way they always have. They don’t accept Moana as different from them- she gets very few lines in the song itself until we see her father placing a crown on her head:

[Chief Tui and Sina:]
The island gives us what we need

[Young Moana:]
And no one leaves…

And so we see this kid who at the start of the song had all of the values she was born with, start to crumble and accept the values forced upon her that clearly don’t make her happy- I mean, look at her face when her father tells her basically the plan for her whole life:

Capture1

Yeah. Looks like a real happy kid right there. Maybe on some levels Mr Moana realises how much pressure he is putting on his 8-year-old:

That’s right. We stay
We’re safe and we’re well provided
And when we look to the future
There you are
You’ll be okay
In time you’ll learn just as I did

This semantic field of amelioratives (all them words in bold, innit) serves as the kind of broad, non-specific reassurance that would probably make a kid that age get into a van to see the strange man’s puppies, too. The fact she has to ‘look to the future’ to ‘be okay’ highlights how she’s obviously not okay right now.

But then we cut to this scene, still within the song, where Moana and her Grandmother as just chilling doing water yoga (someone please correct me on what it’s actually called, it’s slowly killing me not knowing), where we finally get the sense that someone actually accepts Moana for who she is.

I like to dance with the water
The undertow and the waves
The water is mischievous, ha!
I like how it misbehaves
The village may think I’m crazy
Or say that I drift too far
But once you know what you like,
Well, there you are

This whole sequence draws a lovely parallel between Moana and her grandmother, another non-conforming villager. The grammatically repeated ‘I like’ does an actually good job of reassuring Moana, ushering her into the final stage of growing up we see her growing through throughout the film, when she ages into the beautiful young protagonist we see on glossy posters and merchandise. The line ‘The village may think I’m crazy’ is especially significant, because it shows exactly how Nana-Moana sees the society she lives in. Rather than seeing the villagers as people, she sees them as ‘the village’- defining them by where they live rather than who they are, just as they’ve let their traditions (that have evolved due to where they live) define them.

Let’s just take a moment to look at Moana and her grandmother here, too:

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Notice how similar they look! Even their outfits are essentially the same. Now, I could go into my time-travel theories (which totally make perfect sense and don’t at all raise more questions than there ever should be in a Disney film), but for the purposes of this article/2 AM caffeine rush we’ll keep things strictly symbolic. Both characters have essentially the same colour scheme, facial expression, even movements, in this scene;- all adding to the feeling that they’re where they need to be, and the internal chaos of Moana’s both conforming and not-conforming is fixed by the external comforting of her grandmother:
You are your father’s daughter
Stubbornness and pride
Mind what he says but remember
You may hear a voice inside
And if the voice starts to whisper
To follow the farthest star
Moana, that voice inside is who you are…

Notice how she says ‘YOUR father’s daughter’, rather than addressing Mr Moana by name- it’s almost like she’s robbing him of his identity and individuality as a person, just like he’s been doing to Moana from the start of the song- GRANNY POWER!!

Not only is this a note to end this article on, but it also furthers the plot along in the film, bringing the focus back onto Moana with all the repetition of the second-person pronoun ‘you’ and reminds us that it is actually okay to be who you are, as long as you mind whatever the respective society you live in says and don’t rock the boat… Or steal the heart of an earth deity and fuck everyone over so that the fate of Polynesia rests on the shoulders of a teenager, whichever! ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

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2 Comments Add yours

  1. John Stewart-Sykes says:

    They’re deffo doing water bending and not water yoga though

    Liked by 1 person

    1. THAT’S What it’s called!!

      Like

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