ByAllanah Faherty, writer at
Senior staff writer | Twitter: @allanahfaherty | Email: [email protected]
Allanah Faherty

Next year will be a huge year for Disney fans, with a whole slate of Disney movies being released including Zootopia, the live-action version of The Jungle Book and [Pete’s Dragon](tag:896681). However the movie that has Disney fanatics absolutely fizzing is the introduction of the next official Disney princess in the film Moana.

Moana will be Disney's first Polynesian princess in their lineup, and the film will take audiences on a journey through a mythical adventure through the South Pacific as Moana sails the Pacific Ocean to complete her "ancestor's quest." As a New Zealander, Moana already has a special place in my heart, and despite being a huge Disney fan already, it is primed to be my favorite Disney film of all time.

Official Moana concept art
Official Moana concept art

Having grown up in the South Pacific, I am blessed with already having a base understanding of many of the names, characters and even music that will be introduced for the first time to many in the film, and following on from the D23 Expo when we got our first good glimpse at the movie, I thought it was only fair that I share with you some of that knowledge.

Please note: Most of my knowledge comes from New Zealand Maori folklore, which, though often similar, may be slightly different to other pacific cultures such as Hawaiian and Samoan.

The human characters

Source: D23
Source: D23

16-year-old Moana will be our heroine of the film. Her name, which means 'ocean' in both Hawaiian and Maori, is incredibly apt as over the course of the film we'll see her set sail on the Pacific Ocean in the hopes of finding a long lost ancestral island.

Source: D23
Source: D23

Moana's father Tui is the chief of her village on their Pacific island, which in the vein of Disney movies is unlikely to be an exact geographical location. However it will probably involve many aspects of different pacific cultures, and also their similar environment, such as volcanic landscapes. Interestingly, New Zealand has an endemic bird named the Tui, which is unique for having two voice-boxes and known for being "raucous and noisy," as well as having a distinct call. Time will tell if Tui encompasses any of these qualities in Moana.

The side-kicks

Source: D23
Source: D23

Moana's sidekicks and friends were also revealed at D23, though not much information was given on them aside from their names and what they looked like. Heihei the roster looks set to be a bit of comic relief in the film (heihei actually means "chicken" or "fowl" in Maori), and Pua the pig will be Moana's friend. Pua, with his black splotches, bears a similar resemblance to the Kunekune pig of New Zealand.

The Demigod

From a personal perspective, the character I am most excited about seeing in this film is Maui. Maui, is a well known figure in the Pacific, and is basically a Polynesian superhero. I have written all about the myths and legends of Maui before (check it out over here), but here's a quick run down on the man and myth we're going to be seeing in the film:

Firstly he'll be voiced by Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson which is awesome because Johnson is half-Samoan. Maui is known in Samoan mythology, as well as Maori, Hawaiian, Tongan, Tahitian and Mangarevan mythology.

In Moana, Maui will be covered in tattoos which are animated and able to move on his skin and shape-shift into birds and animals. Tattooing is extremely important in many pacific cultures, and was often reserved for people of high status. Tattoo designs in pacific culture usually represent a persons ancestry. Maui was also known for transforming into bird in at least one myth about his actions, so the shape-shifting tattoos are a nice touch.

Maui will also wield a huge fish hook in the film. This fish hook is a pretty important part of Maui, as the legends tell that it is actually made from the jaw bone of his ancestor! In Hawaiian mythology Maui used this mighty jawbone fishhook to haul up the chain of Hawaiian islands, while in Maori mythology he fished up the North island of New Zealand (with the South Island being formed by the canoe Maui was fishing in).

Maui is renowned for being a trickster in many of the tales told about him, so I think some of these traits will certainly make it into Moana. Between him and Moana they should form a dream team, and the two should be able to take on any challenges they face.

The villain

At Disney's D23 Expo, a fiery, ocean dwelling villain was revealed to crowds. Making the villain a sort of lava-monster is a pretty awesome move in a film which is set in such a volcanic area of the world. While I don't know is the lava-villain is based on any particular Polynesia mythology, she does conjure up images of the fire-goddess Mahuika, who Maui famously tricks into giving up her flames, and angers.

The Setting

Moana navigating with the stars
Moana navigating with the stars

The Polynesian setting in Moana will be beautiful up on the big screen, with the lush green islands, large, rocky volcanic mountains, vast oceans and most importantly for Princess Moana, a glimmering sky full of stars. Polynesian people were the world's first great navigators, and found their ways on long and demanding ocean voyages by using the stars to navigate. There's a reason why the New Zealand flag has the Southern Cross constellation - without the stars, Maori never would have reached New Zealand!

Moana and the ocean
Moana and the ocean

The ocean will obviously be a huge part of Moana, as it should be in any film about Polynesian culture - the ocean is a provider of life through its food, and also enabled explorers to find their homeland on their waka (canoes).

The music

Polynesian cultures are extremely musical, with dancing and singing a big part of life. Pacific band Te Vaka will compose and produce the soundtrack to Moana. Te Vaka is made up of dancers and musicians from Tokelau, Tuvalu, Samoa, Cook Islands and New Zealand and make music that is a unique South Pacific fusion. Their music has been used before in the film The Legend of Johnny Lingo.

Moana will be released in cinemas on 23rd November, 2016

Source: Maori Dictionary, MTV, Slashfilm, Sugar Magazine Online


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