As probably the last person to see Disney’s Moana, I wanted to offer a few thoughts. As with a lot of Disney films, there are Easter Eggs littered throughout. There are even multiple references to other Disney films, including Maui briefly transforming into Sven from Frozen and Tamatoa making a direct reference to Sebastian from The Little Mermaid.
In recent years, some #Disney conspiracy theorists have postulated about a connection between all the films, placing them all in one big cinematic universe (for example, it has been hinted that Anna and Elsa’s parents in Frozen survived their shipwreck, marooned in a jungle where they had another child, Tarzan, and their ship being the one Ariel explored in The Little Mermaid).
With that being said, a few elements in Moana have got me to thinking about where it falls in the grand timeline. While it was reported that Moana took place 3,000 years ago (although it doesn’t explicitly state this in the film), I believe there’s a chance that the events of the movie may actually take place in the present.
A Disney film aimed at children obviously has to adhere to certain boundaries, but the fact that no nudity is visible (besides bare-chested men and babies) is telling. Prior to the influence of Western missionaries, female toplessness was common in the South Pacific. Also, in some pre-contact societies, prepubescent children (i.e. Moana’s age at the beginning of the film) went completely uncovered. As they grew up, covering up the privates was not an issue of modesty, but to protect the organs of reproduction.
Other textile elements concern some of the carpets that appear early in the film. One that appears during “How Far I’ll Go” appears to have the same design as the magic carpet in Aladdin. But I don’t believe these are meant to be the same carpet, as this one is more monochromatic.
It is revealed in Moana that the ancestors were travelers, and travel continued even after people settled at Motunui. It is possible then that there was some trade with other cultures.
So perhaps the design of the carpet was copied from one received via trading with Agrabah (the setting for Aladdin), or maybe the people of Motunui originated the design and it was copied by the people in Agrabah with whom they traded.
Another carpet shown appears to depict the ice monster from Frozen, so maybe there was trade with Arendelle as well.
The 1,000 Year Question
The possibility of trade brings us to the 1,000 year question: How could more recent trade occur after the villagers of Motunui stopped travelling and sealed all their boats in a cavern due to the effects of Maui stealing the heart of Te Fiti a thousand years earlier?
Answer: the effects were slow to reach Motunui. Remember, although effects were already visible as indicated in Gramma Tala’s opening exposition, it was within Moana’s lifetime that fish completely disappeared from the island and the vegetation died off.
It is most likely that trade continued until the seas became more dangerous, and given that Gramma Tala knew so well where the boats were hidden, I think it’s possible that the boats were sealed up as recently as within her own childhood (besides, I find it difficult to fathom that a whole fleet of wooden boats would be in perfect working condition after being sealed up in a cavern for 1,000 years).
Here's another theory that may well prove true:
In Tamatoa’s Lair...
Another Disney Easter Egg that has been pointed out is the appearance of a genie lamp on Tamatoa’s shell. At the end of Aladdin, Jafar is trapped in a genie lamp which Genie promptly disposes of. While the film did not actually show where it landed, it would stand to reason that, to ensure that Jafar would no longer be a threat, he could have been thrown to the bottom of the sea. So that would put Moana after the events of Aladdin.
Another object appearing in the lair is the thing Moana uses as a drum when trying to bait Tamatoa. The object appears to be shaped like a rocket. If it is a rocket of any kind, then it would be highly unlikely that the events of the film could take place any earlier than this past millennium.
Now it’s hard to tell what type of rocket it is given the gold plating that has been used to cover it (either Tamatoa is into bedazzling, which he obviously is, or Maui and Moana fixed it up before going in to make it look “Shiny!”).
But with all that being said, here are a few dates in rocket history to keep in mind:
- In 1633, a seven winged rocket powered by gunpowder was launched in Istanbul.
- In 1798, the king of Mysore, India developed iron rockets for use against the British Army, who, in turn a few years later, developed the Congreve rockets.
- In 1926, the first liquid-fueled rocket was launched by Robert Goddard.
Personally, I would like to think that this particular rocket was fired during World War II. Moana involves a Polynesian island and the Polynesian Triangle includes at its tip Hawaii, which is home to a pretty important naval base that was the scene of a major event in December, 1941. Any sunken debris from that area could have drifted to where it was found by Tamatoa who obviously scavenges the ocean, given that he was able to recover Maui’s hook which Maui lost while still within sight of Te Fiti.
A side note, searching for other objects in Tamatoa’s lair and on his shell, there appears to be some that are perfectly spherical or conical (besides the ones that are clearly seashells). Perhaps these could be cannonballs or warheads. It’s an amusing thought that Tamatoa may unwittingly have live ammunition on his back.
A Familiar Flipper
My biggest point involves the turtle at the beginning of the film. The Disney Easter Egg cataloguers identify this little guy as Squirt from Finding Nemo and his father Crush can reportedly be seen in the water.
If this baby turtle is in fact meant to be Squirt, then this, I feel, is the most concrete evidence that Moana is meant to take place in the present.
Turtles can have different growth rates influenced by diet and the environment. Younger turtles often grow faster because of a carnivorous diet so they can hurry up and get away from predators. Older turtles can grow slower because of a herbivorous diet as they maintain overall health and well-being. Climate can be a factor as well, as a study demonstrated slider turtles growing twice as fast in a heated pond than in an unheated pond in the same region.
The time from when a green sea turtle hatchling takes its first swim and when it returns to coastal waters as a juvenile is known as “the lost years” because during this time their whereabouts are unknown and their movements difficult to study. This period can be as long as a decade. By this time they are roughly the size of a dinner plate.
While humans reach sexual maturity in their teenage years, sea turtles can take 20-50 years. So even if you frame the events of the films in real time, it may not be farfetched for Squirt to still be a kid in Finding Dory. With that being said, if we affix the events of Finding Nemo to the year of release (2003) and put the opening scene of Moana with Squirt at maybe a year or two earlier, around 2001, and since Moana is already walking and talking in the opening, then she should be 16 by 2016 (the year of Moana's release).
In Finding Nemo, Marlin and Dory met Squirt and Crush on the East Australian Current. Most of the EAC flow that is not recirculated moves eastward, "crossing the Tasman Sea just north of the cape of New Zealand.” New Zealand is part of the Polynesian Triangle, so it may not be too far from Motunui.
Now we could spend weeks analyzing and arguing over biological inconsistencies of all the species depicted in Finding Nemo and its sequel Finding Dory, but given the modern state of human civilization as depicted in these films and that a healthy green sea turtle can live 80-100 years, if this is meant to be Squirt then there is no chance that these events could occur before the 20th century.
While some may debate this, there are still such things as uncontacted peoples who live, either by choice or circumstance, without influence from global civilization. By choice, the people of Motunui stopped traveling, and by circumstance the environmental effects of Te Kā’s awakening could have made travel to the region difficult, further isolating the island. With that being said, I believe it is very possible that Moana is in fact set in the present.