Disney's Moana Movie Was Inspired By These Polynesian Islands

Disney's latest movie, Moana, opens in theaters this weekend. The animated feature tells the story of the title character, Moana (voiced by Auli'i Cravalho), a young girl drawn to the ocean despite the safety of her home, Motunui Island.

When her home island is threatened, she sets off to find the demigod Maui (voiced by Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson) and convinces him to embark on a journey to sail across the ocean and complete the quest of her ancestors.

In the interest of storytelling, directors John Musker and Ron Clements traveled around the South Pacific, visiting several islands including Tetiaroa, Fiji, Samoa, Tahiti, Moorea, Bora Bora, and New Zealand.

Their four scouting trips to the Polynesian islands (a tough job but somebody's gotta do it) paid off, and translates into some spectacular scenery in the movie. Here is a little more background on some of the islands that inspired the tale.


Home to The Brando resort, tthe Tetiaroa atoll is largely untouched and was used as a key reference point for the fictional island of Motunui. Moana's father, the island chief, frequently tells her that they do not travel outside the reef because the island provides for them. Tetiaroa's enclosed lagoon is a great reference point for this type of closed ecosystem.


"Samoa is like Tahiti 75 years ago," writes Amanda Jones in a feature story from our December 2015 issue. It may be slightly more challenging to get there, but the "sense of discovery, a feeling of having reached a place before the film crews and honeymooners do" is likely what inspired Disney animators.


With over 300 small islands, an abundance of beaches and colorful coral gardens, Fiji is an ocean lover's paradise. So it's a natural fit as a reference for the movie, because Moana is constantly drawn to the ocean. We'd like to think if Motonui had internet, Moana would be a fan of an islands.com! #surroundmewithwater

Bora Bora

Bora Bora's Mount Otemanu is one of the South Pacific's most iconic landmarks. As Moana grows up during the movie, it's easy to see how her fictional island Motunui was heavily inspired by Otemanu.