How Moana relates to the Pacific and our Geography Class

May 03 2018

How Moana relates to the Pacific and our Geography Class

Published by

Hope Perallon

Geography 131

Professor Marshall


The Film: Moana


This feature film representing Polynesian life opens with traditional Hawaiian music. We get an immediate taste for the culture as a mythical story is told to children on the island sitting in a room made of wood and decorated with tapestries.The audience is then introduced to the beautiful landscape of the island that is not only breathtaking for an animation but is also geographically correct.

As the characters are introduced and Princess Moana begins to grow up, the general theme of self-sufficiency through the island becomes apparent. Even though the songs and aesthetic scenes early in the movie don’t develop the plot, they provide a lot of information about how Moana’s people live on the island of Motunui. Besides the belief in many rare gods and stories that contradict science, the way the people of Motunui live in Moana is very historically accurate. Since the island is completely surrounded by water, the people have to use what is on the island.

As the plot progresses, we see that the people of Motunui have sort of isolated themselves on the island since they will not voyage beyond the reef to look for more resources. Characters like Moana’s grandma, Tala, believe the fear of going beyond the reef is irrational. The fictional side of the film reveals that Moana was chosen by the ocean to be a voyager and save the island from a demon named Te Ka who is poisoning the island’s natural resources. Moana’s Father, the chief of the island, is probably the most adamant about not leaving the island. In a flashback, the audience learns that many years ago Moana’s Father tried to go beyond the reef with his friend. The trip was disastrous and his friend died. Moana is stuck between listening to the sound advice of her Father and the risky, far-fetched ideas of her Grandma. When the natural resources on the island become diseased and her Grandmother begins to pass away, Moana is driven to leave the island on her own.


Moana follows the instructions for the quest that she learned from stories passed down through the ancestors. Although these stories are very mythical, Moana leaves with her mother’s blessing but without her father’s knowledge of her voyage to find a demi-god named Maui and convince him to restore the heart of Te Fiti. Moana boards a small sailboat with only her pig and chicken. With the guidance of the ocean, she arrives at a small island where Maui has been stranded for many years. Once Moana convinces Maui that she is the chosen one, they take the small fluorescent green stone and sail for Te Fiti.


Maui and Moana face many challenges along the way. Their boat gets attacked by small coconut pirate creatures who are ruthless. After escaping that, Maui has another near-fatal interaction with a massive crab who is hoarding Maui’s magical fish hook. Moana helps Maui get his hook back and escape the crab. Once Maui relearns how to use the fish hook to give him magical powers, they sail for Te Fiti; knowing they might run into Te Ka.

As soon as they arrive, they immediately encounter the demon who has taken over the island and all of the surrounding land. They pull up in their sailboat and Maui uses his powers to shapeshift into different animals to attack Te Ka. Eventually, Moana realizes she needs to use the green heart stone to calm the demon and destroy him peacefully. Moana places the stone in the heart of Te Ka who disintegrates. The leftover brunt, dead land transforms into the beautiful green grass and all the diseased islands of Polynesia are restored to full health.


This film is very fictional, however, it does portray the Polynesian culture and the issues they dealt with based on their geography. All the magic aside, living on an island with no other resources is risky. The economy is completely internal, in fact, the inhabitants of Motunui appear to share everything. While the film’s plot of the entire island becoming diseased is a little dramatic, in reality, a whole seasons worth of crops could go bad for example. If this happened, the people would have to grow the crops again slowly or go without since they have no imports into the island. This scenario creates a very unique economic geography.

The culture of the Polynesians was accurately portrayed as very resilient to all the encounters they faced. Another culturally accurate fact the film got right is the Polynesian islands people’s use of the resources on the island. They use all parts of the coconut. They use leaves and dead trees for their structures, which still somehow look amazing. The way the Polynesians live in the film is very sustainable for the surrounding environment.


Overall, I think Moana did a pretty decent job portraying the Polynesian culture but the film is so fictional that the audience can’t see the full picture of the culture’s interaction with the rest of the globe. I would recommend this film for a sneak peek of Polynesian culture within a fascinating, fictional Disney story.

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