Is Disney’s ‘Moana’ Based On a True Story?

Disney animated movies have become a staple in many households all over the world. For generations, the imaginative brains of Disney’s creative teams have brought life to a wide range of adored characters that are loved for generations.

People of all ages seem to love Disney movies and one thing that they love the most is the way that the creators are able to take a historical time period and turn it into a colorful, entertaining, and compelling stories that help to teach kids good morals and life values.

One of the things that draw so many people to the Disney Princesses is the fact that they are loosely based on real people. From Pocahontas to Mulan, many of the stories that were told in these movies were inspired by an actual historical event. This leaves many to question whether or not the newest member of the Disney Princess family, Moano, is also based on a true story. 

Here is what we know about the historical accuracies, and inaccuracies, of Disney’s Moana.

When did ‘Moana’ hit theaters?

Auli'i Cravalho on the red carpet
Auli’i Cravalho | Andrew Francis Wallace/Toronto Star via Getty Images

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Disney creators, John Musker and Ron Clements came up with the idea to create an adventurous movie about a South Pacific princess. After five years of painstaking research and a lot of creative brainstorming, the much anticipated Moana hit theaters in the fall of 2016.

Moana tells the story of a brave princess who goes against the wishes of her family and sails across the Pacific Ocean with a demigod to return a sacred stone to an island deity because her people are running out of food on the island that they live in. Once the stone is returned, the dangers of the sea disappear and her people are able to travel the seas once again to search for food.

Audiences all over the world were instantly impressed with how lifelike some scenes of this animated movie really looked. The water had a realistic sparkle to it, the characters’ hair “blew” in the wind in a natural and convincing way, and the sand looked as if it was taken straight from the shore of a beach. The animators worked tirelessly to ensure that every last detail was perfect. 

In addition to the realistic animation, fans also loved the storyline and the characters’ personalities. Moana is portrayed as a strong and independent young girl who will stop at nothing to help save her family. And Maui is portrayed as a strong, yet arrogant demigod who seems a little self-centered at first, but eventually learns to care about others.

Even Moana’s pet rooster, Hei Hei, has a fun-loving personality — even though he doesn’t actually speak. From the first line that each character speaks, you can tell that the team worked diligently to create a group of characters that the audience would be able to connect with.

Is ‘Moana’ based on a true story?

The character of Moana is not a real person. However, the demigod, Maui (voiced by Dwayne Johnson in the movie), has been around in Polynesian folklore for centuries.

According to Smithsonian Magazine, settlers started to colonize Western Polynesia around 3,500 years ago. However, it took about another 1,500 to 2,000 years before they would colonize the islands of Eastern and Central Polynesia. To this day, historians do not know why the Polynesians decided to wait so long before voyaging to other parts of Polynesia.

Disney had a theory, however, and it involved a teenage girl and her pet rooster teaming up with a demigod to battle the scary monsters of the sea and learn the art of wayfinding. 

So, the story itself is not based on any real events. However, the creators of Moana did get their inspiration from historical facts and ancient folklore.

How is Disney’s version of Maui different from mythology?

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According to Polynesian myth, Maui had done many good things to help the Polynesian people. He created the islands, taught man how to make fire, and tied a lasso around the sun until it agreed to make the daylight last longer in the summer.

Disney touched on a few of these points when Maui sang the song entitled “You’re Welcome.”

However, there were a few things that the creators did not get right about the mythical demigod. For example, the mythological Maui is a young, slender immortal who is smart and brave. But in the movie, Maui needs the help of a young mortal girl to help him navigate the seas, which many critics believe make him look incapable and a little dimwitted. 

While millions of people love Disney’s interpretation of Maui, some Polynesians are unhappy and feel that the movie mocks their culture and makes them portray them to be overweight and unintelligent.