Walt Disney’s Moana, “We are Polynesia” : A CDA of Disney’s representation of the Polynesian culture inside Moana

University essay from Högskolan i Jönköping/HLK, Medie- och kommunikationsvetenskap

Abstract: Disney is known for their family animation movies with a non-western or indigenous cultural background. Nevertheless, Disney is basically very influential for the perception of cultures by a global audience. Many studies have proven that Disney’s depiction of a certain represented culture has not always been that clean. Of course two side notes are that Disney does make movies from an American dominant perspective and second, there is no such thing as a ‘real’ or ‘correct’ culture.   Now, with the movie Moana freshly released in 2016, Disney took a step in the indigenous Polynesian culture. This research uses a thorough Critical Discourse Analysis to analyse how Disney portrays Polynesia and the Polynesian culture inside four selected samples of the movie Moana. This analysis is combined with the theories and concepts of Americanisation, Disneyfication and cultural appropriation to find out mixtures of the portrayed Polynesian culture with American and Disney values.   Interesting findings were that Disney indeed portrays a hotchpotch of many cultures that can be found in Polynesia. Disney took care of highlighting the culture in the general storyline, in the characters and in the small details. Disney uses details of Polynesian mythology and the history around the ancient voyagers and wayfinding techniques for the storyline. What Disney emphasises is the importance of family, their history and their culture. Disney always portrays the culture with a certain emission of power and pride.   However, the American dominancy is still noticeable. For example, the depiction of the coconut and the plumeria flower are signs of Americanised Polynesia. The American and Disney values are all visible during the whole movie and can be found in quotes, gestures and behaviour of characters as Moana, the ocean and demigod Maui. Especially Maui is being portrayed as the ‘American dominant hero’ even though Maui is considered to be a honoured and popular Polynesian demigod.

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