‘How Far I’ll Go’ (….To Over-Analyse Disney)

Every road leads back to the place I know
Where I cannot go
Where I long to be…

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At first glance, ‘How Far I’ll Go’ is just another cheap rip-off of the ‘I Want’ trope, the ‘Let it Go’ song to make more money and cheat you into buying yet more Frozen-esque merchandise. But, like most of the other songs in Moana, this one has some deeper meaning that my genius brain has never pinpointed in ‘Let it Go’.

It’s really quite similar to Let it Go in the respect that it’s about not fitting in, but accepting yourself and your weirdness- yet, here we also see Moana acknowledging that she’s a bit weird, and her inner feelings of inadequacy. Let’s begin.

I’ve been standing at the edge of the water
Long as I can remember
Never really knowing why
I wish I could be the perfect daughter
But I come back to the water
No matter how hard I try

This dynamic verb ‘standing’ alludes to the static existence the island life presents; how inactive it is. The water is a common symbol of fluidity and change, so this is more a pun than a metaphor, whacking us over the face with how badly Moana wants us to change.

The vagaries throughout the song such as ‘never really knowing why’ highlight how the conformity of the island life is now so ingrained into her mind that she can’t even remember questioning it (I swear the coconut song bewitched this child). The superlative adjective ‘perfect’ highlights how idealistic the island life is meant to be, directly contrasting how Moana feels inside… This along with the dynamic verb ‘try’ highlights the frailty of her conforming existence on the island, combined with her conscious effort to conform; and it is VERY conscious, as we see with the repetition here:

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Every turn I take
Every trail I track
Every path I make
Every road leads back to the place I know
Where I cannot go
Where I long to be

‘Every’ and ‘Where’ being lexically repeated so much emphasises Moana’s awareness of her own conformism and her duties. The vague concrete noun ‘place’ highlights her conformism is even on a subconscious level, refusing to properly recognise even that which she is ‘longing’ for.

See the light where the sky meets the sea
It calls me
No one knows how far it goes
If the wind in my sail on the sea stays behind me
One day I’ll know
If I go there’s just no telling how far I’ll go

The ‘light’ here is a symbol for freedom and Moana’s individuality, ‘calling’ her to see how far it goes, leading her away from the village (I could go into the geographic symbolism here, but I’ll save that for the On the Road analysis, coming sometime in the next 20 years or so). The ‘wind’ is a common symbol in film and literature for change (think of Pocahontas and how it’s only when the wind blows that John Smith changes from colonialist into goody-goody protagonist), and so here it foreshadows Moana’s geographical and spiritual change from island-princess to way-finder.

However, the intensifier ‘just’ in ‘just no telling’ highlights how she has been conditioned to fear such a change. We saw with the coconut song her indoctrination into the village society began as a baby, and here we see the fruits of it- the ultimate suppression of Moana’s identity.

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I know everybody on this island
Seems so happy on this island
Everything is by design
I know everybody on this island
Has a role on this island
So maybe I can roll with mine

There’s a lot of repetition in Disney songs- to keep the younger audience entertained, of course; but to keep the lit nerds like me (and maybe you, when you’re bored) thinking about their plausible significance. The lexical repetition of the preposition ‘every’ again highlights the conformist view Moana has been indoctrinated to unthinkingly accept- ‘everything is by design’…

The abstract noun ‘design’ highlights how utterly predictable this kind of a life is, while the boredom of Moana’s motions during this verse alludes to the utter boredom she secretly harbours for it. She barely even looks at where she’s throwing those coconuts- a key symbol of life on the island!

The homophones ‘role’ and ‘roll’ also help to create this hidden semantic field of conformity that can be found in most songs in Moana, really. However, the de-intensifier ‘maybe’ also foreshadows Moana’s ultimately rebellious and free-thinking nature.

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I can lead with pride
I can make us strong
I’ll be satisfied if I play along
But the voice inside sings a different song
What is wrong with me?!

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Here we have that confident, strong woman break in the song that’s becoming archetypal of Disney princesses nowadays (they must have cottoned on to the fact that feminism makes even more money than oppression. Hmm.) The dynamic verb ‘satisfied’ highlights how conformity will satisfy only the baseline of what Moana’s life really needs in order to be fulfilled. The metaphor ‘play along’ suggests that on some subconscious level Moana is able to see how arbitrary the rules of society are, and the inherent pointlessness of such a restrictive system that prevents any serious progress.

However, the interrogative ‘What is wrong with me?!’ highlights the depth of her conditioning- with these mildly rebellious thoughts she feels there is something wrong inside her. Imagine what emotional turmoil would ensue if she actually left the island. She’d be distraught. She might even start hallucinating. Like, seeing something crazy like a half-shark half-man or a lava monster. Crazy.

See the light as it shines on the sea
It’s blinding
But no one knows how deep it goes
And it seems like it’s calling out to me
So come find me
And let me know
What’s beyond that line
Will I cross that line?!

Just some brief thoughts to wrap up this analysis- the light again here is a symbol of a possible brighter future for Moana- the key being that it shines on the ‘sea’ which serves as the conduit for both her geographical and her spiritual journey in the film. The fact that it’s ‘blinding’ emphasises (to some extent) Moana’s innocence- she doesn’t know she’s about to go on a big daring adventure, she’s just dreaming of something more exciting than living on the same old island singing the same old songs and obsessing over generation after generation of coconuts- after all, isn’t that what we all want? To break away from the stringent conformity coco-nutters enforce upon us?

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See the light where the sky meets the sea
It calls me
And no one knows how far it goes
If the wind in my sail on the sea stays behind me
One day I’ll know
How far I’ll go

 

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