Disney’s ‘Moana’ blends cultures, but still maika’i loa


Photo by Walt Disney Animation Studios

Walt Disney Animation Studios’ newest film is ‘Moana,’ a tale of a Polynesian teenager on a voyage of self-discovery.


REVIEW: I love a CocaCola Icee at the movies, and Iʻll normally drink it by the end, but during Disneyʻs Moana, I forgot all about it. Yeah, it was that good.

I have to admit that I went to the first possible showing for a couple of reasons. One, I’m a big Disneyphile from way back, but, two, I just had to see Disney’s latest Polynesian “princess.”

Walt Disney Animation Studios has been working to create stronger and more diverse characters over the years, and as a Native Hawaiian, I was anxious to see how the culture was represented.

John Lasseter, chief creative officer at Pixar Animation Studios, said that they are “trying to reach out and find origins of legends all over the world,” during a press conference last May.

It took five years to plan and research Disney’s Moana. Finally, on Nov. 23, they released their first Polynesian heroine film that represented all Polynesian cultures.

Moana, the main character, goes out to save her island by voyaging across the Pacific with the demigod Maui. They go through a realm of monsters and through storms in the middle of the ocean, but, as happens in Disney movies, they eventually get the job done. 

When I went to watch the movie on Wednesday night, I thought that there would be more Hawaiian aspects, but I was wrong. There were not many Hawaiian practices shown except for the voice behind Moana, Auliʻi Carvalho, who is a student at Kamehameha Schools Kapālama.

It was a smart move on Disney’s part to cull a local to play the important lead role.

“I like that you can tell she’s local by the way she says certain words,” junior Mālie Nahoʻolewa said.

Because this movie was a mixture of Polynesian cultures, many people might get confused about the different ones represented.

I caught up to another Kamehameha Maui student who attended the early showing.

“The way it represents Hawaiʻi was good, but would be easily confused with the other Polynesian islands’ legends,” KS Maui junior Collin Haas said.

Although there weren’t many Hawaiian traditions in the film, it showed just how similar Polynesian cultures are.

In the film, Moana and Maui have to battle against little coconut men called kakamoras. They originate from the Solomon Islands and are similar to Hawaiʻi’s legendary small men called Menehune.

While trying to voyage across the sea, Maui teaches Moana how to navigate by the stars. Navigating by the stars has been around in Polynesian cultures for centuries, but interest in the practice has been rekindled recently with the worldwide voyage of Hōkūleʻa.

Many people were probably expecting a Hawaiian movie, which is not what the film was. Disney’s Moana is a melting pot of Polynesian cultures, which might confuse those who are not familiar with them. But other than that, Moana is a strong character, and her portrayal shows the evolution of the way Disney portrays Polynesians in film, from the naive and bumbling Lilo to confident and intelligent Moana.

Cultural aspects aside, this movie is a definite go see.

“It was the type of movie that you just want to see again. I’m even hoping that there will be a second Moana,” said Marisa McPhee, a senior from Baldwin High School.

shaka image used by permission of Wikimedia commons user Tlust’a