The movie, Moana, has become an international hit this past weekend. The film is about a spunky Polynesian 16-year old girl who seeks the help of the demigod, Maui, and set out on a grand, high-seas adventure to save her village from destruction.
There was a lot of anticipation and concern for how Disney would portray its depiction of indigenous Pacific cultures. Overall, the movie truly succeeds by the way it dives very deeply into the culture, setting and mythology of the Pacific Islands that is rarely seen on film. It also includes a talented cast that hail from within the Polynesian community and who voice a delightful array of characters. These include Auli‘i Cravalho, a 15-year-old Kamehameha Schools student, as Moana, Dwayne Johnson, as the voice of Maui the demigod, singer Nicole Scherzinger as Moana’s mother, Sina and Temuera Morrison as Moana’s father, Chief Tui.
Some of Tonga’s royalty family members such as the Hon. Frederica Filipe and her two cousins Prince Tungi and Hon. ‘Etani Tuku’aho attended the star studded World Premier of Disney’s highly anticipated Polynesian animated movie ‘Moana‘, at the famed El Capitan Theater in Los Angeles on 14 November. Hon. Frederica said, “A year-ago Disney invited me to meet with the directors and producers for the Moana movie, after which they reached out and invited me and my family to the premiere. It was an honor to represent our Kingdom of Tonga on the blue carpet and encourage the unity between all of our Pacific Islands by supporting Disney’s Moana Movie,” she said.
For me, however, it was the music that played an instrumental role in the movie (ha! pun intended) success as it usually does for most Disney animated films. Original songs were written by Lin-Manuel Miranda and the score by Mark Mancina. Miranda, whose family hails from the Caribbean, made sure the songs in Moana advanced the story in the musical theater tradition. He also had to address another Disney legacy where the studio has taken some bad press in the past for appropriating other cultures in misguided and sometimes insulting ways.”If you’re making a movie about a part of the world, for many people that will be their only exposure to that culture,” he says. “So you should know something about that culture when you write it.
Miranda and Mancina also worked with Opetaia Foa’i, a Samoan musician who helped make sure the Moana songs were steeped in the culture of Oceania. Foa’i wrote the song “We Know the Way” and contributed rhythmic chants and input throughout the process. The songs in Moana feature Foa’i’s vocal group, Te Vaka, as well as a vocal group, Pasifika Voices, of the University of the South Pacific’s (USP) from Fiji.
Foa’i says the quality of the work is important. “You can’t fool people, you know,” Foa’i says. “If something’s fabricated, we know it.” But he says he’s pleased with the results. “Put it this way: my ancestors would be happy with this movie,” he says. “And that’s saying a lot.”