Disney’s first Polynesian princess is ready for her adventure on the big screen! Moana will be hitting Cineworld screens in less than a month’s time and the first of their films to feature a Polynesian princess; it's also centred on Polynesian culture including its mythology and beautiful landscapes.
This is a big move for Disney, as many of their princesses belong to fictional lands and, as such, can’t be compared to any real life places or people. To incorporate actual places and cultural elements from Polynesia can only be a positive for both Disney and the audience.
So how does this (not so) far away land shape up, and how have Disney depicted it on-screen? We took a look at the latest Moana trailer to see what we could work out!
Moana’s home island and the other islands in the film are depicted in rich and vibrant detail, bringing to life the lush greenery and plant life of the region. The colours and the detail do justice to the reality, bringing the region to life. The blues of the skies and the seas are also perfectly captured – so much so, you almost can’t tell the difference between the movie and the real thing.
Not only that but, the plants, trees and shores you see throughout the trailer are carefully crafted to mirror the plant life found on the islands. Disney’s vision is really bringing the location to life. The rocky beaches and dense forests are amazingly detailed (right down to the stray seaweed!)
The architecture of the culture also plays a big part in the movie, most prominently seen in the designs of the boats throughout the trailer. As well as Moana’s own double canoe (which she may well have made herself), we see plenty of fishing canoes and boats which were used by Polynesian fisherman and to travel between islands.
Animals play a big part in the story, with Moana acting as a friend to much of her island’s wildlife. This includes Heihei, a rooster who joins Moana on her journey and Pua, a small pig who is Moana’s constant companion. These two animals weren’t just chosen at random though: both roosters and pigs are found all over the Polynesian islands and a rooster even plays a big part in one of the legends of Maui, while Maui himself turns into a variety of birds found around the islands… but more on him later.
Using these animals, Disney are trying to stay true to the cultural accuracy of the region that they’re representing and, from what we can see, they’re doing a great job.
Mythology is an important part of any culture and Polynesian mythology is no less wild and exciting than that of other places around the world, several elements of which make their way into the film. But, how accurate are they? Let’s take a look…
First up is the Lava Witch, an incarnation of Pele. Not the footballer but the goddess of fire, lightning, wind and volcanoes. Believed to be responsible for volcanoes erupting and possessing a fiery temper to match, we’re not sure what part she plays but judging by the fact she battles Maui, she must have done something to get on his bad side!
We know that Moana and Maui come up against the Kakamura in the trailer but who are these mysterious little creatures? Known for their small height (only up to four feet), their hairy appearance and a peculiar way of communicating they have been referred to as the hobbits of the Solomon Islands (a group of Polynesian islands). They are believed to eat fruits and nuts and are not above attacking any trespassers on their territory, which might explain why Moana has a run-in with them during the film!
The big guy himself! Maui is a big part of Polynesian history with many different versions appearing over time but across most of them he is a shapeshifting demigod with a giant fish hook. Using his giant fish hook Maui has performed many feats of strength and wonder over his lifetime, and is credited with pulling the up most of the islands across Polynesia from the ocean floor.
In the trailer he even mentions his feat of slowing down the sun with his fish hook, which is one of his many feats in Polynesian folklore. Known as a good-hearted trickster, trying to help mankind he is brought to life perfectly by Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson. Disney have seem to have captured Maui’s vanity, love for mankind and his light-hearted disposition perfectly…not to mention his boastful nature!
As for the eponymous princess herself? Moana is a continuation of the ‘new breed’ of Disney princess in the mould of Merida and Elsa: strong, independent and ready for adventure! Dressed in the style native to the Polynesian region, her dress seems to be a style known as Pareo, a wraparound skirt traditionally worn by men and women. The fact that both she and all of the other characters are barefoot in the movie is also a nod to Polynesian tradition.
Moana heads out to sea to prove that she can be a master wayfinder, which is a respected navigator in Polynesian culture. They read the swells of the ocean and are known to have lead voyages thousands of miles across the sea. She also has a special, magical relationship with the ocean and her name even translates to meaning ‘ocean’ in Maori language.
Moana promises to be a fun filled Disney adventure pairing an amazing story with great animation. But, even more important than that, Disney seem to have created a grounded and accurate character whose roots are steeped in local cultures and history and whose culture is faithfully portrayed to audiences around the world.
Don’t miss out on seeing her journey when Moana is released on 2nd December at Cineworld cinemas nationwide.