Posted by Kristin Lai @kristin
MP Staff Writer, cinephile and resident Slytherclaw // UCLA Alumna // Follow me on Twitter: kristin_lai
Kristin Lai

After what's felt like an eternity of waiting, we were finally graced with a good look at Disney's upcoming animated adventure Moana. Yesterday, the first official teaser trailer was released, and it already has us wanting more.

The trailer may be brief, but it still gives us a real taste of the animation style and plot details. Most notably, it featured one of the film's main characters: Maui.

The trailer begs the question: Do you know who Maui is? For those who didn't grow up learning Polynesian mythology, he may have slipped under your radar. But given his new prominence in pop culture, perhaps it's time we study up on the demigod joining Moana on her adventures!

If you haven't already, check out the first official trailer for Moana below:

Meet Maui!

Maui's presence can be found in the mythology of multiple island nationalities including: Hawaiians (Hawaii), Tongans (Tonga), Samoans (Samoa), Tahitians and Mangarevans (French Polynesia), Maoris (New Zealand), and some smaller islands in the South Pacific.

The tales of Maui and his contributions to the world differ somewhat in specifics, but there are a surprising number of similarities in stories and themes between the regions, despite having oceans between them. From what we've seen so far, it appears that Disney vacillates between the mythos of each.

Maui is member of a group of powerful individuals, known widely as Aitu. While some of these legendary figures are vengeful and malicious, there are plenty who are kind and caring, albeit somewhat mischievous. Thankfully for our protagonist, Maui falls into the latter category.

Described by Hawaiian musician and activist Israel "Bruddah Iz" Kamakawiwo'ole as the Hawaiian Superman, Maui is one of the most prominent figures in Polynesian mythology and a perfect character to accompany Moana on her seafaring adventures. Let's delve a little deeper into the accomplishments Maui mentioned in the trailer, and a few others that could be included in the movie:

Maui Snared The Sun

One of Maui's most famous feats was when he slowed down the sun. One day, the demigod saw that people were greatly distressed because they were unable to finish their daily tasks before their days were cut incredibly short by the sun's fast pace across the sky.

Maui decided to take matters into his own hands. He climbed a mountain and lassoed the orb. From here the story goes one of two ways. In the first, he catches the sun and demands it slow down. In the second, he and his brothers beat the sun up with his jawbone club until it agreed to slow down, leaving it limping slowly across the sky and giving us more daylight. Either way, we have Maui to thank for our 24-hour days.

He Pulled Islands Out Of The Sea

Although powerful, Maui was smaller in stature than his brothers and lacked the fishing skills they possessed. Anytime they would go fishing he would get teased for reeling in only tiny fish. Tired of the taunting, Maui persuaded his brothers to go on one more fishing trip with him, this time bringing a newly acquired magical hook.

Maui was sure that with this hook he would finally be able to catch the biggest fish in the ocean. But instead of a fish, his hook was caught on the sea floor, which slowly began to rise. He then convinced his brothers to keep paddling their boat to bring the "fish" to the surface. Eventually, the brothers look behind them to see that they had hauled up giant islands in their wake.

He Had Incredible Shapeshifting Powers

Although he has four brothers, Maori legend says Maui grew up separately and was raised by his ancestor Tama-nui-te-ra instead of their mother Taranga. After being reunited with his family, Maui had to prove himself to his brothers, who were wary of his presence and alleged skills.

To earn their respect, Maui proved his powers by turning himself into every kind of bird in the jungle. After he was finished, his brothers finally accepted him as one of their own. As we can see in the trailer, Maui's penchant for avian shapeshifting will be included in Moana.

Maui Also Battled Monsters

Although the trailer shows him fighting a giant octopus, Maui's most famous monster battle was against the evil long eel, most commonly named Tuna-roa. Since these stories are passed down from generation to generation, there is some debate about who Maui is saving, but it's generally considered to be Hina. In some instances Hina is Maui's mother and in others she is his wife. In any case, she meant a lot to Maui and warranted saving.

Hina found herself consistently harassed by the eel while fetching water in the nearby stream. After being struck and knocked into the water multiple times, she went to Maui for help. To stop the sea creature from terrorizing Hina and the other villagers, Maui caught it with a net and used a stone ax to chop it into pieces.

He Rediscovered Fire

This legend has many iterations, so I'll go over two of them. In both cases, fire starting had become a lost art on Earth, and Maui sets out to find it again.

The first story claims that while fishing, Maui and his brothers see billowing smoke from a fire on a nearby island. Together, they stalked out the sacred 'alae 'ula hen who still held the secret to fire. Maui — trickster that he is — was able to fool her, or in some versions strangle her, into revealing her secrets of which woods will start a fire.

In the second, Maui had to travel down to the underworld to ask Mahuika, the fire goddess, for the secret. Maui makes a deal with the goddess to help her eat and drink — a tricky task since everything she touches bursts into flames — in exchange for one of her magical flaming fingernails. After tricking Mahuika out of all of her nails, he narrowly escapes her wrath by turning into a giant hawk and flying back to Earth.

Maui Even Lifted The Sky

Similar to his bid to make days longer, Maui wanted to expand the entire sky to help his people. He noticed that the sky was growing closer to Earth. Unable to walk upright, this forced people to crawl on the ground and plants and trees to grow flat.

To alleviate their suffering, Maui sought out his father to help push the sky higher. Together, they laid on their backs and pushed up against the sky with such force that people could finally stand upright, preventing it from falling completely and saving all of humanity.

Moana stars Auli'i Cravalho as the titular character and Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson as Maui. At the helm of the project are Ron Clements and John Musker, directors of another Disney feature, The Princess and the Frog.

In order to ensure they properly pay tribute to the cultures involved, Clements and Musker spent time traveling and learning from experts on Polynesian mythology. Considering there's so much source material to pull from, I expect Disney to get pretty creative with its cinematic version of the demigod.

Here's the official synopsis of Moana, provided by Disney:

Three thousand years ago, the greatest sailors in the world voyaged across the vast South Pacific, discovering the many islands of Oceania. But then, for a millennium, their voyages stopped — and no one today knows why.
From Walt Disney Animation Studios comes ‘Moana,’ a sweeping, CG-animated adventure about a spirited teenager who sails out on a daring mission to prove herself a master wayfinder and fulfill her ancestors’ unfinished quest. During her journey, she meets the once-mighty demi-god Maui (voice of Dwayne Johnson), and together, they traverse the open ocean on an action-packed voyage, encountering enormous fiery creatures and impossible odds.

This is only an abridged version of the long and rich mythology behind Maui, and is in no way exhaustive. If I've missed anything worth noting of Maui's character, please let me know in the comments section!

Moana will be released in theaters on November 23.

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(Source: Sacred-Texts, Maui Kayak Adventures, Myth Encyclopedia, Wikipedia)