Moana lives in a village called Motunui (which appears to be an actual place?). We get a fairly in-depth view of how the village works during the song "Where you Are" - there's a chief, he answers people's questions; there are village dances; village elders, etc. Coconuts are depicted as being a very important part of the village lifestyle. There are chickens.

Does the village of Motunui accurately depict a Polynesian village from that time period?

1 Answer 1


One of the Special Features on the Blu-Ray edition of the movie was "Voice of the Islands", in which the Production team for Moana discuss their many visits to the Pacific Islands and with several people from the Polynesian culture. It explains that the Production team spent many hours in conversations and meetings with people and groups from that culture in their attempts to be as accurate as possible.

From IndieWire's article, "'Moana' Blu-ray: Why Disney Changed Its South Pacific Lead from Demigod to Anti-Princess", it states:

Disney Animation chief John Lasseter's truth-in-research mandate has never been more evident than on the Oscar-nominated "Moana"...

The filmmakers' sojourns to the South Pacific greatly influenced their Polynesian world and its characters...

Indeed, the three weeks traveling between Samoa, Tahiti, Fiji, and New Zealand was an ethnographic revelation in culture, art, beauty, and the spiritual connection with the land and ocean.

As a specific example from the featurette, it states that the Disney team had planned a scene in which Moana was upset that her father was treating her like a kid, so she went down to the beach and was hitting coconuts out into the ocean. However, after one of their meetings with their Polynesian "focus group", they were told that Moana wouldn't do that.

As it states in the "Blu-ray Review: 'Moana' Extras Spotlight Island Authenticity In All But The Directors" article from Forbes:

A scene in which Moana smashes coconuts out of anger was changed because, they were told, no teen in the tribe would ever disrespect the food source.

While I'm not personally from any Polynesian bloodline, based on the "Voice of the Islands" featurette, I would say that Moana's village of Motunui is as accurate a depiction of a village and the culture as was possible within the confines of the story while still allowing themselves some "wiggle room" for creative license where necessary.

As an aside, one other interesting tidbit of information that was illuminated in the special features was that of all the main characters in Moana, only one was not voiced by someone of Polynesian descent: Heihei, the chicken (voiced by Alan Tudyk).

From the Vanity Fair article, "How Pacific Islanders Helped Disney’s Moana Find Its Way":

The main Moana cast—Cravalho, Dwayne Johnson, Temuera Morrison, Rachel House, Jemaine Clement, and Nicole Scherzinger—have roots in the Pacific Islands. (The one exception is Texan Alan Tudyk, who gives a wordless, cluck-filled voice performance as Moana’s brainless chicken sidekick, Heihei.) The cast was able to subtly help shape the performances to fit with what they knew of Pacific culture. House especially—such a rigidly hilarious part of Moana first-draft screenwriter Taika Waititi’s Hunt for the Wilderpeople—turns in a voice performance oozing warmth based on the “aunties” of her Maori background.

EDIT: After rewatching the documentary video in an effort to improve the quality of this answer, I didn't see any specific quotes from anyone in the Oceanic Story Trust group that would really clarify the answer any further. The only thing that I did take away from it was the sense from the native Polynesians that were interviewed that they were pleased with the movie and the accuracy with which Disney portrayed their culture. While that could simply be a matter of the editors doing their job to keep the propaganda spinning in the right direction, there is one quote that gives me the impression that it's more than that:

"It's probably one of the things I respect the most about this whole process. The directors and the producers, and a lot of the animators and illustrators have come here, not just once, not just twice. They've come over and over and cared enough to involve us in this."

[Dionne Fonoti, Anthropologist and Filmmaker, Samoa]

Additionally, a Natural Historian that was a part of the Oceanic Story Trust group said this:

"In our minds, all the way along, it was really, you know, when the local people see this movie, we want to make sure that, when they see it, they're going to recognize it. It may not matter to a lot of people, but for the local people who recognize their culture and their dances and their tattoos, it's really important. It's really, really done well."

[Francis Murphy, Natural Historian, Mo'orea]

Without actually being a historian or a Polynesian myself, I personally take these two quotes - along with the other information I presented previously - as evidence that Disney was at least moderately successful in their attempts to depict a Polynesian village.

  • 1
    You might have some information to share on this related question, too.
    – Napoleon Wilson
    Dec 18, 2017 at 20:32
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    In fact, it might actually adress that question a little more than this one, seeing how you don't really talk much about the village specifically here.
    – Napoleon Wilson
    Dec 18, 2017 at 20:36
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    Sure, and that's very interesting information... but I'd still consider that more detailing the effort rather than the outcome of that effort. If I asked 'What precautions did Disney take to make "Moana" as accurate as possible?" that would be a different question than asking about the results of those efforts. (They're very much intertwined questions, yet still different.) Kudos for the effort, though ;) An answer to the question about the results would compare the village as depicted in the movie against an actual village, and see how it works out (or asking a native, who [cont]
    – Mithical
    Dec 18, 2017 at 20:49
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    [cont] knows what the actual villages look like). An answer comparing the details - do they accurately portray the division of power? Do they accurately portray their attitude towards coconuts? Do they accurately portray the tattoo process? - would be absolutely awesome.
    – Mithical
    Dec 18, 2017 at 20:53
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    @Mithrandir I wouldn't deem it beyond a good base for an answer, though.
    – Napoleon Wilson
    Dec 18, 2017 at 21:58

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