Moana Premier: Aotearoa's contribution to Disney movie

By Peata Melbourne
  • Auckland

The stars are out on the red carpet at the New Zealand premiere of Moana, a 3D computer animated, musical adventure film produced by Walt Disney Animation Studios. The film is packed with Māori and Pacific Island talent.

Some of the big names include Temuera Morrison (Te Arawa, Ngāti Maniapoto) is the voice of Chief Tui, Jemaine Clement is Tamatoa, and Rachel House (Ngāi Tahu, Ngāti Mutunga) is Grandma Tala.

The movie Moana has put the Pacific on a popular platform known as Disney.

“Disney puts our culture in places in most homes around the world, it's such a fantastic thing, and we should really get behind this,” says Moana theme song composer, Opetaia Tavita Foa'i.

Familiar Polynesian personalities come to life, like Māui known in Polynesian myths as the cheeky demi-god.

Actor Temuera Morrison says, “We've all heard of Māui the demi-god, this is Māui of Hollywood.”

Disney even brings Tangaroa, God of the Sea to life, behind it a subtle message about protecting the environment.

Actress Racheal House, “It is the issue of our time right now so in that regard I feel very proud of that environmental message which is pretty clear.”

It was like a dream come true for Opetaia Foa'i, who had been singing about the Pacific in his own pacific style his whole life.

“Well I think I was groomed for this because I've been doing over 20 years in Te Vaka and basically all I was doing was telling the whole world how fantastic our ancestors were as sailors and navigators,” says Foa’i.

The movie has faced controversy along the way following reports Disney released Moana and Māui costumes and was slammed on social media for cultural misappropriation. Some took offence to the coloured 'skin' being used as a literal costume, while others said it was disrespectful to many Polynesian cultures.

“It's a fun children's film, to ease the minds,” says Morrison.

Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson plays the vain demi-god. His portrayal of Māui may irritate the culturally oversensitive. But on a good note, We Know the Way has surpassed Frozen's Let It Go song already in the charts.

Based in Sydney, Foa'i came to New Zealand's Waihi to find inspiration behind the song - We Know the Way.

“I came to record it with a good friend of mine Malcolm Smith who lived amongst tall kauri trees, and I stood there and I felt the power of these kauri trees and the song just came out,” says Foa’i.

The movie left one with a message of not being afraid to fail.