moana
Our newest ‘princess’.

Did you know the name ‘Moana’ means ‘ocean’ in Maori and Hawaiian? Seems very fitting for a movie about travelling across the Pacific Ocean, which is exactly the plot for the upcoming Disney movie Moana, in theatres November 23rd. But is that all that we can expect from Disney? Just dive a little deeper into the inspiration behind this story, and you’ll find some treasures untold. (Sorry, I’m done with puns now)

samoan fire knife dancer
Samoan Fire Knife Dancer – photo courtesy of Aloha Islanders Hawaiian Entertainment

Exhibit A

The art of dance in Polynesian culture. Polynesia is the region of Hawaii, New Zealand, and Easter Island that’s in the shape of a triangle (also known as : The Polynesian Triangle). Within this region, Polynesian dance has a range from your typical Hulu dancing to batons and even fire dancing. This is the region we have to thank for luaus, which are basically parties filled with entertainment, such as dancing, and pork that’s been cooked underground for a really long time (it tastes a lot better than it sounds). Since dance is such an integral part of Polynesian culture, does this mean that the movie will close out with a luau? Or will we see a luau at all? What about fire dancing? Will there be, perhaps, some side story about a girl who wants to be the first female fire dancer?

Exhibit B

moana concept art
Concept art for ‘Moana.’

Polynesian mythology. In the teaser trailer which features some amazing music by the one and only Lin Manuel Miranda, we meet Maui, the self-proclaimed “greatest demi-god in all the Pacific Islands.” In Polynesian mythology, there is actually a god named Maui who can transform into all kinds of birds (such as the eagle from the trailer). However, he is also known as a trickster god. So, can we expect Maui to suddenly turn evil like Hans in Frozen? That’s a bit of a gray area, since ‘trickster’ can apply to some harmless pranking and also to actually tricking people out of malicious intent. Or, can we expect Maui to trick some unknown evil villain to save the day?

moana_vari-ma-te-takere
Lava Witch? Or a Polynesian demon?

Exhibit C

     Speaking of unknown evil villain! In Polynesian mythology, the first Polynesian gods (not including Maui as far as I know) were born out of a female demon named Vari-Ma-Te-Takere who lives in a very cramped space at the bottom of an island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. She didn’t give birth the way mortals do, however: she actually plucked chunks of her skin and gave them life. Regardless of her children being gods, however, she is still a demon. Is it possible that, along their oceanic travels, the dynamic duo of Moana and Maui accidentally release Vari-Ma-Te-Takere from her prison? And in doing so threaten the very ocean itself? Or would she be Hollywood’s first benevolent demon? Or is she in the movie at all? What about other gods? Would they make an appearance as well?

 

maui
Personally, I like Maui’s design.

At the end of the day, Moana should be judged, not by the body type of the characters, but by the quality of the story. Hopefully, by introducing you to some concepts from which Disney drew inspiration, you might be able to give Disney a little more credit where credit is due.

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