Moana, Disney’s first Pacific Islander “princess,” tries to save her people by sailing the tumultuous seas to find demigod Maui, who can help her accomplish the task.
But like most Disney stories, there is something that inspired the creators of the film. So what exactly is the tale behind the major-grossing movie?
Researchers have found that there was a time period, referred to as the “The Long Pause,” when seafaring Polynesians colonized islands in the Pacific Ocean. They reached the islands of Samoa, Tonga and others before ending their voyages.
Alvaro Montenegro and co-authors Richard Callaghan and Scott Fitzpatrick created a paper on the theory that the Pacific Islanders did not at first have the technology to sail farther east.
"From west to east: Environmental influences on the rate and pathways of Polynesian colonization" suggested that Polynesian travelers had encountered difficult wind patterns that prevented them from traveling farther.
“Our paper supports the idea that what people needed was boating technology or navigation technology that would allow them to move efficiently against the wind,” Montenegro told the New York Times.
This is just one theory of why Polynesians took a break from travelling.
The creators of the film, John Musker and Ron Clements, used the Long Pause as part of the story. The lead character, Moana, cannot sail beyond the reef because it is too dangerous and the waters are very rough. Her father, Chief Tui, forbids her community from sailing and fishing beyond the reef for this reason.
The reason for the Long Pause in the movie is for a much different reason, and incorporates Pacific Islander culture and stories, but you’ll have to watch the movie to find out.
The Smithsonian posted an article determining how culturally accurate details were in the movie.
Although "Moana" has been praised for including more accurate information about Pacific Islanders’ culture than some of its other Disney counterparts, it still has come under fire.
Critics disapproved of Maui’s size, alluding to the stereotype of overweight Polynesians. This has been one of many discrepancies in the film.
Disney did, however, get right the way in which Polynesians learned how to sail the seas, a tactic called wayfinding. Wayfinding in the movie is used by setting one’s hand against the sky and using stars to identify the location.
"Moana" is one story and is not reflective of all Pacific Islanders and their culture. As the first travelers left and colonized many more islands, these other cultures continued to have unique traits of their own that other island communities may not have shared.