17 Facts About "Moana" That Completely Changed How I View The Movie

    You can spot Flounder from "The Little Mermaid" swimming with the other sea animals.

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    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!

    Moana, an animated character, is smiling in a tropical setting

    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:

    1. 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.

    Animated character Moana from Disney, smiling, looking to the side, with long wavy hair
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    2. 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.

    Illustration of various fish, with one circled, comparing to a character resembling the fish in a different scene

    3. 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!

    Maui in a leaf skirt strikes a pose with Moana looking on, by the sea in the animated film "Moana."

    4. 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.

    Moana and Gramma Tala animated characters standing together with a gentle touch, traditional Polynesian attire, beach background

    5. 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.

    Animated character Heihei from Moana in a basket on a boat with ocean wave in the background

    6. 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.'"

    Two images of Maui from Moana, top shows a friendly smile, bottom shows a focused expression

    7. 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.

    Split-screen video call with smiling people in a conference room on the left and an excited woman on the right

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

    Pua the pig and Heihei the rooster from "Moana" looking curiously at a stone

    9. 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.

    Two people: Lin-Manuel Miranda in black tuxedo and bow tie; Phillipa Soo in sleeveless top with round earrings

    10. 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.

    Animated characters Maui and Moana on a boat with the ocean and other boats in the background

    11. 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."

    Animated characters Maui and Moana on a boat, Maui smiling at Moana who is holding an oar

    12. 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.

    Mark Mancina, Lin-Manuel Miranda, and Opetaia Tavita Foa'i

    13. 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.

    Animated character Maui from Moana with his magical fishhook tattoo visible

    14. 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."

    Closeup of Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson

    15. 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.

    Hawaiian Airlines plane with Moana and Maui character decals from the Disney movie Moana

    16. 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."

    Animated character Heihei from "Moana" walking on a beach next to a canoe

    17. 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!

    Animated character Moana reaches out to a translucent green wave on a sunny beach

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

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