I Genuinely Can’t Watch “Moana” The Same Way After Learning These 17 Facts

17 Moana Facts That Changed How I Watch The Movie

Of all Disney’s princesses through the years, Moana is easily my favorite. And I’m not alone: Seven years after its release, Moana was the most-streamed movie of 2023 with a whopping 11.6 billion minutes watched!

With the sequel coming later this year, I thought it would be fun to take a deep dive in the beloved film. So, here are 17 fun facts that changed how I view Moana:


Originally, Disney planned for the movie to focus on Maui, our favorite demigod. Moana was envisioned as a secondary character on a mission to rescue her love interest. Thankfully, that didn’t happen! The film is much stronger as a journey of self-discovery.


Directors Ron Clements and John Musker also co-directed another Disney movie set in the ocean: The Little Mermaid. And they included a small Easter egg during “You’re Welcome” — Flounder! You can spot him swimming with the other sea animals.


Speaking of “You’re Welcome,” the song was actually supposed to be sung by Moana instead of Maui before they’d nailed down the characters’ personalities. John told Entertainment Weekly, “When she first met him, she idolized him, and when she came upon this down-and-out guy, this mope, she had to get him going and so she sang a song to him reminding him, ‘Don’t you know you did all these great things?'” Eventually, the team decided to turn Maui into the confident demigod we know and love today. Lucky for us as that’s Dwayne Johnson’s only song!


Many members of the Disney team — including directors, animators, and producers — traveled across the Pacific on research trips. They spent time in the villages, went sailing, and spoke to people of all ages and backgrounds. An elder approached them and said, “For years, we have been swallowed by your culture. For once, can you be swallowed by ours?” Whew, talk about powerful! This stuck with the team and became their driving force to dive deep into Pacific cultures.


While on the trip, they were moved by the message that the ocean is not what separates the islands — it’s what connects them. Pacific Islanders also emphasized the idea of nature being alive. This comes across throughout the movie, where the ocean is a character in its own right.


Maui was originally supposed to be bald like The Rock. But when Disney took early art to Polynesian cultural advisers, they weren’t fans. “The advisers said, ‘Maui isn’t bald. He has this long, rich hair that’s part of his mana (spiritual energy),'” Ron told USA Today. “And we all said, ‘Okay, Maui will have hair.'”


Auli’i Cravalho was the very last girl seen by casting agents on the last day of auditions. During the online callback session, the Disney team asked her to act out her reaction if she landed the role before telling her she actually got it.


Pua originally went on the entire adventure with Moana. That would’ve been so fun to see this cutie with a larger role!


Lin-Manuel Miranda wrote many of the songs including “How Far I’ll Go” and “You’re Welcome.” He worked on the Moana soundtrack during his Hamilton run and even turned to a few costars like Phillipa Soo when recording demos.


The movie addressed a real-life historical event called the Long Pause. People arrived in the Western Pacific Islands around 3,500 years ago and then took an estimated 1,000-year-long break before continuing on to Eastern Polynesia. Though scholars have debated the reason for the pause, it remains unknown. Moana explained it with Maui stealing the heart of Te Fiti and the boats not returning, which sparked widespread fear of going beyond the reef.


From the beginning, the directors wanted Moana to have a different body type than previous princesses. John told BuzzFeed, “That was a deliberate attempt, partly inspired by wanting her to be different. And then we wanted her to be an action hero, capable of action. Even the visual development drawings we had done and stuff, based on drawings of people in the South Pacific…it just seemed right for this character to have her look like she could physically hold her own for what kind of stunts we wanted her to do, and the physicality of the role.”


The directors looked at The Lion King‘s template for musical success: composer Hans Zimmer, pop star Elton John, and South African producer Lebo M. They found a similar formula for Moana: composer Mark Mancina who worked on hits like Tarzan and Brother Bear, Lin-Manuel as the talented celebrity, and Opetaia Tavita Foa’i, a singer and songwriter who founded the Pacific Islander band Te Vaka.


Maui’s character was inspired by a combination of Polynesian myths. While many islands have their own variations of Maui, there are a few common stories. He is often credited with giving the knowledge of fire to humans, slowing down the sun, and using his hook to drag up the islands from the depths of the ocean. Some of the myths even made their way into the movie.


Maui also drew inspiration from another source. On Twitter, Dwayne wrote, “A lil’ @Disney gem of a secret, my character Maui was partly inspired by my late grandfather, High Chief Peter Maivia of Samoa. #grateful.”


Hawaiian Airlines celebrated Disney’s first Polynesian princess by painting three of their planes. They also decorated the over-head compartments with Moana-themed decals.


At Comic-Con, a Disney panel revealed that Heihei was a very different chicken in earlier versions of the movie. “Heihei the animal went through a bit of a character evolution,” writer Jared Bush said. “He started out as kind of a jerk. Heihei had a lot of attitude. Over the course of many different screenings, [we learned] the character wasn’t resonating. We started to change just one little thing about Heihei.”


And finally, Moana’s name is symbolic. The word moana actually means ocean in many Polynesian languages. So when the ocean chooses her, it’s very fitting!

Know any other fun Moana facts? LMK in the comments below!

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