Prior to watching, I was bracing myself because I knew that this was a pacific story told by a non-pacific organization. Usually when an outsider tells our story, I cringe because the artwork/narrative is dishonest and lacks integrity.
But I saw so many criticisms that I became curious. Ironic - Lol! Some complained that the story was too "mixed" accusing the writers of inappropriately mixing multiple polynesian and melanesian languages, clothing, mythology. Some complained that there was not enough research done, and not enough insight sought after from the elders back home. Others complained simply because outsiders told our islander story which was not for outsiders to tell.
So this is my take:
I enjoyed the "mixed"ness of the script especially because the setting took place in ancient Oceania which means that our pacific cultures were likely unified in ancient times before we spread out to populate the rest of the pacific. It makes sense that we would recognize various island cultures in this crafted tale of ancient times.
I also read that Disney's team did spend some time in the pacific. And when I saw the film for myself, I saw that they did do their research as far as capturing the various garments, language, and physical features of the characters. Did they do enough research to create a documentary? Probably not. But did they do enough research to craft an Oceania cartoon, something intended to entertain families and children? I feel they did.
As far as their outsiderness disqualifying their position to tell our story? Gosh I'm torn on the answer. On one hand, I don't like outsiders telling an insider's story - especially what feels like "my" story as a pasifika woman. Since I am indigenous to the Samoan, Tongan, Fijian islands, I have a painful relationship with Colonization and Exploitation of the Pacific. When a non-pacific person/group tells my pacific story and makes a profit, then it does trigger that stinging sensation of colonization in the pacific because it feels like an outsider is reaching into my territory and extracting something valuable without permission or compensation.
On the other hand, I am first generation American living in the diaspora and I constantly yearn for islander representation in the media and in pop culture because we lack islander representation. Since I was not raised in the islands, and was not raised in a society where islanders are the dominant majority, I fight the issue of Invisibility. The invisibility of my islander identity and culture. So when I do see parts of our islander culture represented, even if not done perfectly, then I feel excited. I can't help it. I'm excited for visibilty of our islander culture even if that means an outsider will share our story because it starts the conversation, the conversation about the pacific.
Visibility creates a sense of belonging. And a sense of belonging inspires participation. As an immigrant, visibility is vital for me while I continue to live and create something for myself in this new land.
That's what Disney's Moana means to me. It's a reminder of our talent to pioneer new things. After all, weren't our islander ancestors navigators? And in that sense, I have all the pioneering tools and dna to succeed here.