And yet, modern Christian Polynesians are relatively laid-back. Polynesia thus remains a conceptual battleground for contemporary theorists of nature versus nurture, such as Jared Diamond.

When the first Moana trailer was released, Social Justice Warriors denounced the depiction of Maui for “€œstereotyping”€ Polynesians as “€œobese.”€ But of course Maui’s size is instead a tribute to how remarkably overrepresented Polynesians are in American football. As Tom Wolfe wrote of Samoans in 1970, “€œThey are big huge giants. Everything about them is wide and smooth.”€ NFL legend Troy Polamalu has a small role in Moana, perhaps in return for Maui borrowing his famous hair.

It’s worth detailing how the Disney team deflected the SJWs. Many of the social-media frenzies of recent years have been inspired by a desire among the complainers to get hired by movie studios to offer “€œnotes.”€ Dr. George Miller, director of the Mad Max series, brilliantly realized that social-media meltdowns could be headed off by simply hiring some senior identity-politics totem, such as the feminist author of The Vagina Monologues, to endorse his blue-collar heavy metal action picture. (One action scene in Moana is a tribute to Fury Road.)

Moana has been widely praised by critics for “€œcultural sensitivity”€ because Clements and Musker did extensive research in the South Pacific. They formed an “€œOceanic Trust“€ of congenial souls they met on their travels to advise them. This seems like a clever solution for big-budget filmmakers: frustrate identity-politics kvetchers by having already put people you like on the payroll.

The forgotten reality, of course, is that Western artists have flocked to Polynesia since Melville, Gauguin, Conrad, and Stevenson, who spent the last four years of his short life on Samoa. Moreover, American writers who took all-expenses paid trips to the Pacific in the 1940s courtesy of the Pentagon include James Michener, Norman Mailer, James Jones, William Manchester, and Gene Roddenberry, who returned to reimagine Captain Cook’s Endeavour as Captain Kirk’s Enterprise. Polynesia may well be the exotic culture most closely studied by American artists.

Clements joked, “€œ…we had to travel to some of the most beautiful places in the world and spend quite a bit of time there.”€ Musker added, “€œSo we were forced”€”forced, I tell you”€”to go to Tahiti and to Fiji and to Samoa…. It was a terribly tough job, but we took it on.”€


Sign Up to Receive Our Latest Updates!


Daily updates with TM’s latest