Auli'i Cravalho, Alessia Cara
How Far I'll Go
Disney is at again.
Oh, I'm not just talking about the Mouse House's latest animated hit, Moana. I'm also talking about what those of us with young daughters (myself included) are likely to be hearing them sing for the next year or so (if Frozen's "Let It Go" is any indication).
This time around, the song's called "How Far I'll Go." In the film, it's sung beautifully by actress Auli'i Cravalho. And because Disney never misses a beat when it comes to these things, there's another version in the credits and on the soundtrack by relative newcomer Alessia Cara (who also performs the song in an oceanside video).
No matter who's singing it, though, the song's lyrics give us a pretty good summary of the movie itself
The Call of the Sea
In the film, Moana is a young woman who's about to become the leader of her people. But she feels a strong call to go to sea, something she doesn't understand yet somehow intuitively knows is a part of her destiny. Her dad's against it, of course (as overprotective Disney dads almost always are). But—surprise!—it's not a calling that Moana can resist.
The song itself tells exactly that story. "I've been standing at the edge of the water/Long as I can remember, never really knowing why," we hear Cravalho and Cara sing in their respective versions of the song. "I wish I could be the perfect daughter."
But despite that wish, the siren song of the waves pulls the young princess back to the ocean's edge. "But I come back to the water, no matter how hard I try/ … Every path I make, every road leads back." Later she adds, "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."
Hungry curiosity gnaws at her ("What's beyond that line, will I cross that line?"), even as she recognizes that everyone else on the island is pretty content with the roles they've been given to play ("I know everybody on this island has a role on this island/So maybe I can roll with mine").
But try as she might, Moana can't quite talk herself into that—a "failure" that leads her on a great adventure … and leads to her eventual apology to her father for not following his rules.
Whose Line Is It Anyway?
Frozen's "Let It Go" was (and remains) a beautiful song. But its story-specific lyrics ("conceal, don't feel") needed some contextual guidance for the youngest fans.
The same is true here. "How Far I'll Go" is another lovely song about a young woman grappling with her sense of calling and destiny. And for Moana, pursuing those things involves doing exactly what her father has instructed her not to do. When we watch the movie, we see everything resolved beautifully. So when she sings, "Will I cross that line?" we know she's going to do exactly that and that it's all going to work out for her (and her relationship with her father) in the end.
But the potential (and admittedly mild) problem with a lyric like this is that it can introduce the idea that the only way for young people to get what they want is to ignore parental limits and to go looking for "what's beyond that line." So to fully enjoy both this song (and the movie it comes from), parents of young Moana fans need to talk about why mom and dad set limits and why imitating Moana's determination to pursue her destiny on her own works better in a movie than it does in real life.