This Is Why Disney’s Newest ‘Princess’ Moana Is So Important

It is a pretty big call to be the ‘Disney Princess’ movie to follow in the footsteps of Frozen – a film that had the world head over heels in love with the heroines.  But Moana took it in her stride and had a message that was far more important than finding a prince or wearing pretty dresses. It was about culture.

We were at the New Zealand premiere of Moana, listening to the beat of the Hawaiian drums and watching the dancers proudly performing their cultural dance as a small girl walked down the red carpet with her family holding a Moana doll, a doll that was Polynesian, a doll that was like her.

Polynesian culture is the most important part of this film, so it was only fitting that New Zealand stars play big role in the film. Temuera Morrison plays Moana’s father, Chief Tui, Rachel House plays Moana’s Grandmother, Gramma Tala, Jemaine Clement plays an antagonist, Tamatoa and Oscar Kightley plays a fisherman. Kiwi-based musician and composer Opetaia Foai was also the soundtrack composer of Moana.


Oscar Kightley, who has a role that is “small but crucial”,  loves that the film has a “young brown hero”.

“They have done Mulan, so they have done a Chinese hero, they have done Ariel, so they have done a mermaid hero. I think it just feels right that the chose the Pacific, it feels like the right time. It feels like maybe it couldn’t of happened earlier and it’s a shame if it happened later. I just love that the hero is a young brown girl, a 14-year-old girl. It’s not some guy.”

Everyone involved with the film fought hard to ensure everything was done to respect the cultures and the mana in the film.

“Its important to me that it honours that cultures that it’s derived from.  I think they have done that. I met them before they made it because they travelled around the pacific including Auckland, they really have done their best to do due diligence,” Oscar said.

“I have no worries at all about whether it does value the cultures that it comes from.”

Bringing the Polynesian culture to animated-life was something Disney did incredibly well, which goes hand in hand with the films other message – the hope to raise awareness to protect cultural and environmental resources.

Hawaiian Airline’s NZ country director Rusty Williss was at the premiere, providing lei’s to the cast and filmmakers as well as discussing these important messages.

“It’s very important from the Hawaiian perspective, [the film looks in to] the history of the voyaging and the ancestry around the Maori culture as well, but not just the Maori, the whole Polynesian culture. The connections are just so very, very strong.”

“For Hawaiian it is just what we do and what we embody everyday. It is what we are about.”

Hawaiian Airlines also had a scale-sized replica of a traditional Hawaii sail that was making its way around the Pacific to various screenings. It hopes to raising awareness and money for the Polynesian Voyaging Society, which builds traditional voyaging canoes and travels around the pacific – replicating ancient Polynesian voyages – including visiting New Zealand.

“We have the sail, which is actually designed and made by some genuine Hawaiian navigators. That is very much part of what we are doing here too, we support the Polynesian Voyaging Society with the three year journey with the hokoulia and the hekeialania – the two voyaging canoes on their worldwide journey. We are going to look to use that to raise funds for the Polynesian Voyaging Society.

“It is very important [to protect the cultural and environmental resources]  not just to the Hawaiian culture but to the whole Polynesian culture. The connection to the ocean, I mean that is life. The pollution in the ocean these says is getting to some crazy portions. The three year voyage is about raising awareness of not just that but of sustainability as well.”

Moana had a deep connection to the ocean in the film, something that makes us realise how important it is that we take better care of the ocean – and the environment.

The film is in cinemas on Boxing Day and you should definitely head along.

Read our review on the film here.