Since it was released in America over Thanksgiving weekend, Moana has been a huge critical and commercial success. It has a 95% positive score on the review aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes, based on nearly 200 reviews, and has already been nominated for six Annie Awards and two Golden Globes. In addition, the film has currently made $284.5 million worldwide, and it's yet to be released in countries such as Australia and Japan. I saw Moana a fortnight ago, and I really enjoyed the film. The characters and story were interesting, and the songs and animation were excellent. Overall, it's another Disney classic.
Last month, I posted a set of articles about the film, mostly focused on the pre-release publicity. Here are 21 more articles about the movie. These range from interviews with people involved in making Moana to articles discussing the positives and negatives of the film's portrayal of Polynesian culture.
Interviews with the Cast
With the exception of Alan Tudyk (who voices the dim-witted chicken Heihei and gets a couple of lines as an unnamed villager), all the voice actors involved in Moana are Polynesian, or have Polynesian ancestry. They given a number of interviews where have praised the manner in which Moana brings their native culture to life.
Dwayne Johnson, star of Moana and the Sexiest Man Alive, is also a big ol’ crybaby - 2016's highest-paid actor, Dwayne Johnson (AKA The Rock), who voices Maui, is unquestionably the most famous person in Moana's voice cast. In this interview, he talks about how he"cried multiple times" when he saw the finished product, and praises its portrayal of Polynesian values. He also reveals who his favourite Disney villain is, and how this inspired his portrayal of Maui.
Jemaine Clement's 'crabulous' role in Disney's Moana - Flight of the Conchords star Jemaine Clement voices one of Moana's most memorable characters, the giant kleptomaniac crab Tamatoa. In an interview with Jack Van Beynen, he discusses what it's like to be a voice actor, and even briefly mentions Moana's fandom. This article also mentions a comedic play about Maui written by Clement and Taika Waititi 12 years before the Disney film came out.
Jemaine Clement Talks Playing A Giant Crab In Moana, Channeling David Bowie And Maori Myths (Exclusive) - A second interview with Jemaine Clement, in which he predominantly discusses the creation of Tamatoa's signature song, "Shiny". He also talks about improvising a number of lines which were cut from the finished film, and mentions the "terrifying" nature of many Maui myths from the Maori culture.
Temuera Morrison and Rachel House on whether Moana is cultural appropriation - Two of the most prominent stars in Moana are the Maori actors Temuera Morrison (who voices Moana's father, Cheif Tui) and Rachel House (who voices Moana's grandmother, Gramma Tala). In this article, they both talk about what it was like to work with Disney, and praise Moana's portrayal of their culture. They also express hope that the movie will lead to increased interest in Polynesian stories.
Interviews with the Crew
A wide range of people are involved in the production process of an animated movie, ranging from producers and directors to costume designers. Several of the most prominent people to work behind the scenes on Moana have talked about the contributions they made to the movie, including a large number of people from the Polynesian islands.
Disney's Moana: how Kiwis made it happen - This article from the New Zealand website Stuff centres around an interview with Moana's directors Ron Clements and John Musker, who discuss the contributions made by a number of important "Kiwis"; screenwriter Taikia Waititi (who wrote the first draft of the movie, and provided much of its "architecture"), actors Temuera Morrison, Rachel House and Jemaine Clement, and songwriter Opetaia Foa'i. Clements and Musker provide a number of interesting anecdotes, especially when they discuss how Morrison would prepare for recording sessions by speaking Maori.
Moana is Making Waves Around Globe- Whilst Stuff's article focused on the New Zealanders who worked on Moana, this article from Voa News focuses on the Hawaiian cast and crew, especially Aaron and Jordan Kandell, a pair of Hawaiian twins who were among the seven people credited with writing the story. Voa News' article is full of interesting information, with Aaron Kandell discussing how his experiences as a wayfinder inspired his contributions the movie, and Jordan discussing the Moana's feminist messages. There is also a contribution from a friend of Auli'i Cravalho, the girl who voiced Moana. .
Niuafolau’s experience contributing to ‘Moana’ - The Samoan anthropologist and historian Niuafolau Dionne Fonoti was part of the "Oceanic Story Trust", a group of experts in Polynesian culture who worked to ensure that Moana would portray their culture as authentically as possible. In this article, she discusses her initial concerns about working with Disney, but states that the hard work has paid off, as Disney "understood our cultures". Fonoti is also proud that Moana has been very popular in Samoa.
Opetaia Foa'i Talks Disney's Moana & Helping To Bring Polynesian Culture To Life Onscreen (Exclusive)- Whilst a lot of the advance publicity for Moana has focused on the fact that the soundtrack was written by Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda, the contributions made by Opetaia Foa'i, lead singer of the group Te Vaka, were equally important in creating the movie's music. In this article, Foa'i talks about the attention which Moana has received, and the need to include key aspects of Samoan culture in the film.
Reactions from Polynesia
Critics and viewers all over the world have reviewed Moana, but the most important reactions are those from the Polynesian communities whose culture and mythology inspired the movie. They have generally reacted positively to the film.
Some Things About Disney’s “Moana” That Real Polynesians Want You To Know - This article on Buzzfeed examines how a range of Polynesian people reacted to the movie. 25 Polynesian people provide their opinions on different aspects of the movie. They seem to reach a consensus that Moana and Gramma Tala are the two best characters, but there is some criticism of couple of liberties taken by Disney (such as the idea of Moana becoming her Island's chief) . The Polynesian cinemagoers generally support Moana's portrayal of their culture, and are pleased about the increased publicity it has received as a result of the movie.
Steve Soltysik teaches Wilcox 2nd graders about Polynesian navigation, Hokulea - This article centres around Steve Solysik, who teaches Hawaiian children about Polynesian traditions of navigation and wayfinding. At one point, he acknowledges that Moana has led to increased interest in these aspects of Polynesian culture. Solysik's comments provide important insights into the roles which movies can play in bringing important customs and traditions to mainstream attention.
West Hawaii families praise ‘Moana’ - This article focuses on how West Hawaiian families have reacted to Moana. The people interviewed describe Moana as "meaningful", and claimed that the movie excited them enough to give them "chicken skin" (i.e goose bumps), even if its depiction of Polynesian lifestyles was more influenced by Samoan and Tongan cultures.
Praise and Criticism
Moana has received plenty of praise for its animation, music, strong lead character and portrayal of Polynesian life. However, the movie has also gained criticism for the way in which it combines elements from the culture and mythology a wide range of islands to form a single idyllic vision of Polynesia. There have also been some articles discussing how the movie relates to environmental issues.
"Consider the Coconut": How Moana uses Polynesian culture to create a prototypical Disney story- Taking its title from a line in Moana's opening song, "Where You Are", this article on Slate discusses its portrayal of Polynesian culture. It praises the Polynesian cast and music and the portrayal of wayfinding, but notes that the movie closely follows the traditional Disney formula in many ways, highlighting the fact that it is primarily a product aimed at mass audiences. Overall, this article is very interesting, as it provides plenty of insights into "the complicated interaction between culture and commerce".
How the Story of "Moana" and Maui Holds Up Against Cultural Truths - In this article, Smithsonian scholar Doug Herman discusses the positives and negatives of Moana's portrayal of Polynesian culture. He praises the movie's depiction of Polynesia's wayfinding history, which he refers to "as the greatest human adventure story of all time" but criticises the depiction of Maui and the overly romanticised portrayal of tribal life. He also believes that the troublesome Kakamora, who wear coconuts as armour, perpetuate stereotypes of the Polynesians as "Coconut people". Though I don't agree with all of Herman's complaints, he provides an engaging and balanced article which provides some very interesting information on Polynesian culture and traditions.
Moana Movie: That Chicken is a Historical Interest, Not Just a Side Comic- There is plenty of interest in Polynesian culture in the Philippines, and many Filipinos believe that the Polynesian people originated from Southeast Asia. This article discusses this theory, and how Moana's chicken sidekick, Heihei, may be a homage to it. Heihei is a Bantam Rooster, and this species can be found in both the Phillipines and Hawaii. This article provides some interesting observations about the origins of Polynesian culture, and its links to Southeast Asia.
Princess Moana, the Rogue One rebel, the Eagle Huntress: meet film’s female heroes - This article from The Guardian aims to look at a number of films released in the UK during December which feature strong female protagonists. However, it primarily focuses on Moana, mentioning how a number of writers have reacted to the titular protagonist and her movie. Although the article mentions the small but vocal group of critics staunchly opposed to the idea of Disney making a film about Polynesian culture, the majority of people who contribute their opinions are full of praise for Moana, and hope that its success will lead to an increased number of films with "diverse and interesting characters"
The Hole in Moana’s Heart - Whilst most criticisms of Moana have focused on its portrayal of Polynesian mythology, the environmentalist Edward Stanton argues that a bigger problem is the movie's failure to engage properly with environmental concerns, as "People, not gods, were the cause of environmental devastation on Pacific Islands." Many of the tribes who settled on the Polynesian islands were affected by ecological decline, which eventually led to famine, especially in Rapa Nui (Easter Island). Stanton believes that Moana's refusal to discuss this reality is based on a desire to avoid offending people, and the movie needed a stronger approach in order to highlight the destructive effects of human disrespect for the environment.
What Standing Rock and 'Moana' Have in Common - This article from Vice tries to link the themes and messages of Moana to the protests at Standing Rock, where Native Americans and environmental campaigners have fought to prevent the construction of an oil pipeline across sacred Sioux lands. Like the protestors at Standing Rock, Moana is fighting to preserve her land and her community. However, whilst Moana 's success highlights the power of the individual, the protestors at Standing Rock managed to get the pipeline withdrawn through mass protests and collective organisation.
Criticism of Maui
One of the most polarising elements of Moana (especially among the Polynesian community) is the depiction of Maui. The revered demi-god is portrayed as a comic relief sidekick whose bravado hides some deep insecurities. Although I was generally OK with Moana's take on Maui, his bulky build and egocentric behaviour (especially in his early scenes) have annoyed a number of experts, who have provided some strong criticisms.
Goddess Hina: The Missing Heroine from Disneyʼs Moana - In this article, Tevita O. Ka'ili, a cultural anthropologist from Tonga, argues that one of the most problematic features of Moana is the omission of the powerful goddess Hina. She is traditionally portrayed as Maui's female counterpart, (the exact nature of her relationship to Maui varies from island to island), and Ka'ili argues that the failure to include Hina leads to an overly simplified portrayal of Polynesian mythology, magnifying the problems with the movie's depiction of Maui. He regards the omission of Hina as an example of "Disneyfication" and concludes that "Disney lacks the cultural depth to tell our stories".
Maui needs to Maui - This letter, written to the Samoan Observer, gets its title from the fact that the Samoan verb "maui" (spelled the same as Maui's name, but pronounced differently) means "to shrink". The writer, LV Letalu , argues that the decision to reduce Maui's power and increase his flaws is based on the need to emphasise Moana's status as the movie's protagonist, with Maui assuming the role of her "foil".
Moana and Resistance Spectating - Richard Wolfgramm's article for Medium.com focuses on the need to be a "resisting spectator" and watch movies like Moana with a critical eye. Whilst he praises several aspects of the film (such as the animation and Auli'i Cravalho's voice acting), he brutally attacks the portrayal of Maui, believing that he is reduced to an "arrogant, egotistical [and] self-absorbed" caricature rooted too heavily in Western stereotypes. Wolfgramm makes some interesting points about the uneasy relationship between big American film studios such as Disney and the minority cultures they often depict, but I passionately disagree with his claims that Moana's directors were motivated primarily by money.
The Supersize Cliché in ‘Moana’ - This article in the New York Times is written by Lawrence Downes. He argues that Maui's design perpetuates the stereotype of "humongous Hawaiians", leading to greater ignorance of the fact "that Islanders come in all sizes". Although Maui's energy and agility confirms that his huge size is due to muscle, not fat, Downes raises some important concerns regarding the depiction of Polynesian males in the media.
All the articles listed above discuss Moana's portrayal of Polynesian culture, They provide a range of opinions, from praise for the movie's vibrant animation and depiction of wayfinding, to criticism of its take on Maui. In addition, the people who wrote the articles and the experts interviewed or quoted by them provide a number of fascinating insights into the mythology and customs which inspired Moana. Regardless of whether you're a fan of the film or not, these articles are all worth reading.