6 Environmental Lessons from Moana

One of the magical part of parenthood is the life lessons we receive by re-entering childhood with our kids.

One of those magical parts for me, is the surprisingly number of connections I’ve found in childhood to environmental communications. If you’ve read this blog before, you know I’m not shy in sharing them with you.

Strange as that connection may sound, I’ve learned about green communications by watching my girl sell cookies, by playing Monopoly Junior, by volunteering in her classroom, by encouraging her belief in Santa, by allowing Walt Disney’s imagination to routinely invade my living room, about using your creativity to get through summer vacation, by sharing the Opening Ceremonies of the Olympic Games with her, by watching her generation emerge, and perhaps most importantly, by being a working mom and learning how to value the small amount of time your prospect might be able to give you.

The most recent lesson came from Moana, which has pretty much been playing on repeat on my DVD player over the last month or so.

Moana is not your average Disney-princess story, but instead a classic hero’s-journey. It’s not a love story, and in fact, there’s not even your classic villain – something Disney has excelled at since the beginning.

In one review, the lack of a great villain in Moana is seen as a weak plot point, but for the sake of environmental communication (something I’m always on the search for), I see it as an excellent lesson.

Throughout most of the movie, the somewhat scary lava-monster, Te Kā, is seen as a minor villain. It’s not until the end that it turns out this nightmare-inducing vision is actually the embodiment of Moana’s version of Mother Nature: Te Fiti.

It could be I’m the only person who sees Te Fiti as Mother Nature, but she’s touted in the movie as the giver of life, and when our supporting hero/villain – the demigod Maui – steals her “heart”, the world is plunged into “darkness” that spreads for over a thousand years.

From where I’m sitting, if you steal the soul of Mother Nature, that “darkness” looks suspiciously like environmental destruction.

One day, the darkness reaches Moana’s island and she uses it as a great excuse to embark on her hero’s journey.

Her tribe reluctantly allows this teen to head out on her own. For the purposes of the plot they do it because she’s the “chosen one.” But if you look closer it’s also because no one else has the courage to do it.

1st Environmental Lesson:

If we don’t allow our environmental heroes to succeed, we’ll continue to pass our own destruction to the next generations.

Moana’s people were either too scared or too ignorant to try to fight the darkness on their own, so they allowed it to pass on through the generations.

From there we head instantly into our…

2nd Environmental Lesson:

If we don’t have the courage to stop the villain (“the darkness,” otherwise known as environmental destruction), it will spread, and life as we know it will be gone.

To stop the madness, Moana is tasked with finding Maui, the demi-god who stole Te Fiti’s heart. For purposes of the plot, Maui is rumored to be the only one who can fix this problem and in the movie embodies a dual Villain-Hero role.

It’s Moana’s job to get her Hero to the finish line. She’s the support, the stubborn pebble in his shoe that won’t allow him to give up when things get tough.

3rd Environmental Lesson:

Who is your hero? Is it possible that being a supporting figure is your role too?

Think about what it would take to get someone who can enact real change to the finish line. Being the supporting hero is sometimes the more important role.

(As a quick aside, literature is filled with important secondary characters who allow a hero to succeed and sometimes are even written with more depth and purpose… Samwise Gamgee, Horatio, Hermione and Ron, Obi-Wan Kenobi, Dr. Watson… I could go on.)

Near the end, Moana’s hero fails her.

He gives up, in spite of her monumental efforts to get him to succeed.

She loses her spunk, and wants to give up too. The voice inside her (in non-Disney language, we call this our conscious…) won’t allow it and after a beautiful song and a little encouragement from her dead grandma/stingray, pushes on alone.

Environmental Lesson #4

When your “hero” fails you, get yourself to the finish line. If being the supporting hero doesn’t work out, steal the main role. You can be a hero too.


In the very end, even stubborn, chosen-one, willful, creative, intelligent, brave Moana can’t do it alone.

Maui, reprises his hero role, and they defeat the scary Te Kā together.

Environmental Lesson #5

Allow yourself to receive help, whether it’s from your hero or someone else when you falter. It’s not shameful to be part of a team.


I’m just soft-hearted mama, and I shamelessly cried buckets when it turned out the freaky molten-lava monster was really the beautiful Polynesian version of Mother Nature.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that when robbed of her soul, Te Fiti was angry and turned into someone even she didn’t recognize.

It’s easy to lose ourselves when our innermost morals are shredded.

Te Kā, or the scary version of Mother Nature, tried to fight to the death the very people who would help restore her to herself.

Environmental Lesson #6

Sometimes it takes others to show us we’re the villains. And don’t expect thanks from Mother Nature, from Congress, from the public, from the press… even if we get a happy ending.

Expect to be thrown lava curve balls at every stage of your environmental hero-journey.

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