It’s no lie that Walt Disney Animation Studios spent years trying to perfect their knowledge of Pacific culture for their 2016 motion picture “Moana,” but their exceeding attention to detail, even within a film of fiction, delivered a film with attention to detail beyond what audiences could’ve anticipated.
In a film discussion on Sept. 12, Weber State physics professor and director for the Ott Planetarium, Dr. Stacy Palen, educated students and faculty about the accuracy “Moana” presented, especially regarding the heart of the film: Moana’s world-spanning journey across the waves.
The movie primarily focuses on the protagonist Moana and her journey across the sea to find the demigod Maui and her discovery of her ancestors’ voyaging journeys before their permanent settlement on her home island of Motunui.
“The Polynesians and the Pacific people used to navigate by boat for a long time and they went from West to East and then for about 1000 years they didn’t, and nobody knows why,” Palen said. “So, this story of ‘Moana’ trying to rediscover this (tradition), is an actual thing that happened.”
Palen discussed the book “Hawaiki Rising” by Sam Low and a Hawaiian navigation conference to give detailed information regarding star alignments, wind directions, ocean swells and hand navigation, all of which is shown in the film.
One fact Palen explained was Hawaiians’ use of a star compass, which divvies the sky into 11 degree increments. However, the names repeat and are symmetrical from right to left and top to bottom. For example, the Big Dipper will appear in the “house” Nalani, and will set in Nalani on the other side, according to Palen.
“So, they don’t have the concept of latitudes or meridians, but they know there’s this pattern,” Palen said. “When you’re in Tahiti, these two stars (meridian pair) are the same distance above the horizon as there is between them, and then you can ask ‘Were they measuring in degrees or radians?’ and they weren’t; they were measuring in knuckles and thumbs and hand thickness.”
The movie also demonstrates that phenomenon during Moana’s attempt to sail and measure distance in the night sky by lifting her hand up to see how it aligns with the stars.
Palen’s presentation brought students from various departments and even faculty who aren’t necessarily in the science department.
“I didn’t know how accurate it (the navigation from the movie) was until (Palen) explained today that it really was accurate, and you don’t know that when you’re watching the movie,” said Anneke Allot, a current WSU student working on completing an associate’s degree and a physics enthusiast.
Chad Holbrook, who works as a program administrator for continuing education, was interested in Palen’s seminar after discovering it on the events calendar.
“I kind of figured they (the filmmakers) were pulling from historical fact, but I didn’t understand what they were measuring or how they were measuring, and that was interesting to hear,” Holbrook said.
For more information about events like this happening within the science department, visit weber.edu/cos/COS_calendar.