[WARNING: This article contains SPOILERS for Moana]
After letting Pixar take the reins to the world of animated feature films, Disney made a comeback for the ages. With hit releases like Frozen and Zootopia showing a Disney family classic can be a full-fledged blockbuster, they’ve set their sights on an even more compelling mythology and adventure in Moana. Pitting a young girl, the demigod Maui, a rooster and a pig against mythological evils and powerful forces may seem like a job guaranteed to keep directors and animators busy… but the amount of easter eggs, Disney references, homages, and hidden meanings says otherwise.
We’ve done our best to narrow down Moana‘s many jokes, inside reference and secret meanings for all to enjoy, but it goes without saying that there will be SPOILERS in our look at Every Moana Easter Egg & Disney Reference.
15. Frozen Cameo: Sven The Reindeer
A movie looms large over the industry and its genre when it generates the box office success of, for instance, Disney’s Frozen. But the movie that proved Disney’s animation could still deliver a Hollywood mega-hit also casts a big shadow at the studio itself – establishing a high bar for all other creative teams to aspire. And the makers of Moana aren’t the first Disney/Pixar adventure to include a loving reference to the chilly film’s supporting cast.
Queen Elsa never appears to test her cold powers on the Pacific Ocean, but when Maui retrieves his fishhook and begins to try out his shapeshifting abilities, one of the creature he transforms into during the quick sequence is unmistakable as Sven, the loyal reindeer belonging to Frozen‘s Kristoff.
14. Flounder Cameo
Having held the role of the creative leaders on The Little Mermaid, it was downright expected that directors John Musker and Ron Clements would find plenty of opportunities to plant easter eggs and references to their previous water-based princess adventure. Fans won’t be disappointed, but they will need to be paying close attention to catch the appearance of Flounder, Ariel’s most trusted friend.
There are plenty of places for a yellow and blue-striped tropical fish to hide in throughout the movie, but given the same color scheme seen on fish during Maui’s performance of “You’re Welcome,” it seems like the most likely answer (sadly, his role is restricted to a cameo, for now).
13. Frozen Cameo: Olaf The Snowman
Disney has their choice of beloved mascots with Frozen, since every character in the cast became an overnight sensation due to the film’s success. But every fan has a special place in their heart for Olaf… and apparently, the directors of Moana have a very special one. Prior to the film’s release, word of a cameo spread claiming that Olaf, the sentient snowman would be making an appearance. Since a snowman wouldn’t survive long in the warm locations in which Moana is set, it seemed to defy reason.
Unless, of course, you consider just how Olaf would appear, were he to be dropped in the South Pacific. We weren’t able to spot exactly where in the film Olaf’s cameo can be found, but with the directors confirming that he’s present with a wink in their eyes, we may need to take another look for a stray carrot, or a handful of sticks… next to a puddle.
12. Prince Eric’s Statue
Keep counting those Little Mermaid nods! When Maui’s song “You’re Welcome” leaves Moana stuck inside a cave with a massive statue of the demigod to keep her company, she, along with most of the audience, will only be focused on exactly how she’s going to make her way out. But take a closer look at the Maui statue, and you’ll see the similarities between it and the one of Mermaid‘s Prince Eric, the item that played a memorable role in the wreck of Eric’s ship.
With one foot planted, arm held heroically in front, Eric and Maui have more in common than you might expect. It’s the kind of easter egg you can expect from two directors who’ve made their mark on so many Disney films – and it’s far from the last embedded within the film’s dialogue and imagery.
11. Nod To Aladdin’s Sphinx
While we’re on the subject of the statue of Maui, make sure not to look away as Moana uses it to escape the cave. As the statue begins to break, one of the clearest pieces to be affected is its nose, cracking loose. Now, normally, that would seem like a small joke that the directors or animators seemed to enjoy. But considering that the joke was already made famous by Musker and Clements in Aladdin, it’s obviously one of the duo’s favorites.
In case some fans don’t recall, the joke appears there as Aladdin and Jasmine are enjoying their magic carpet ride, and take a swift detour past the still-under-construction Sphinx. As they fly by, they grab the attention of the sculptor refining the statue’s nose – swinging recklessly, and cracking straight through, resulting in the same injury. In real life, the nose was likely defaced by someone trying to send a message to those who used it as a place of worship, but… it’s not the first time Disney has taken some liberties.
10. Zootopia Cameo (in Disguise)
Not every Disney cameo is easy to spot… or, to be honest, even obvious without the outright confirmation from the directors. Not long after Frozen re-defined “surprise hit” for Disney, Zootopia came along to rake in the box office dollars just as swiftly. As such, the directors worked in a cameo from a Zootopia resident – albeit a much. much, less recognizable one. The guest star is none other than ‘Flash,’ the achingly slow sloth working at the animal city’s DMV.
If you couldn’t spot him in the movie, don’t feel too bad. The directors explained that Flash would be in disguise, and while that could really mean anything, the appearance of a purple-masked, four-armed creature in the realm of monsters seems to be the closest we’ve found yet. The claws match, and all things considered, it’s about the opposite role we would expect from Flash… making it perfect.
9. Frozen Hair Homage
Once Moana decides to finally set sail beyond the reef, she makes her way towards Maui with the help of a constellation in the shape of his fishhook – before a wave flips her boat, knocking her out. She comes too on Maui’s island, but the happenstance and luck of the arrival is driven home by the fact that Moana looks truly, truly unprepared. Beginning with her hair: a tangled, sandy mess… that should look familiar.
The hairstyle is too close to that of Princess Anna in Frozen to be a coincidence, and even if it’s not as significant an easter egg as a character cameo, it’s yet another example of the team of Disney artists showing some love to the work of those who came before them.
8. Not Another Disney Princess… Right?
When Moana and Maui finally decide to join forces and set off for adventure, he makes the mistake of referring to her as a princess – a classification that she does not take as a compliment. Insisting that she isn’t a “princess” (like so many other leading ladies in Disney movies), Maui drops some irrefutable proof: she’s a young heroine with an animal sidekick, and that always means the girl in question is a princess.
It’s clearly a bit of commentary, or simply a playful joke at the expense of Disney’s habit of telling stories that only center on princesses, regardless of nation or period. While the term still applies her, with Moana joining the ranks of previous Disney princesses, we can apparently say that she’s one of the few who would actively oppose the title.
7. Moana: Fury Road
Although the actual villain of the movie was hard to decipher from the film’s trailers, the colorful characters known as the Kakamora distinguished themselves as an antagonistic force Maui and Moana would have to deal with. The movie didn’t disappoint, portraying the masked menaces dressed in coconut armor as a force not to be reckoned with. And emerging from the haze on their rough, patchwork vessels started to draw some parallels between these survivors and some others recently dominating the blockbuster movie scene.
Those who felt there was some real Mad Max: Fury Road DNA at work in the Kakamora were vindicated when the cast and crew confirmed as much, stating the design as a clear and intentional homage to director George Miller’s game-changing adventure movie. These specific enemies may have a bit more in common with the foes of Waterworld, but since those were basically Mad Max on water, it’s all come full circle.
6. Baymax Mask
Don’t worry, Disney fans: it isn’t just the most recent hits Moana is paying tribute to, since they’re all part of one big Disney family. When our heroes encounter the Kakamora and inadvertently set all of their eyes upon themselves, the humor of seeing so many masked faces turn in unison may distract viewers from yet another easter egg. In that exact shot, keep an eye on the right side of the screen for the one Kakamora bearing a white mask with eyes torn right out of Big Hero 6 and its own robotic hero, Baymax.
The two black dots connected by a single line may seem like a rough design, but considering it’s the only such mask in the entire frame, it’s no mistake. No word yet on whether or not their temperament of loyalty is the same, so we’re standing by for confirmation.
5. Wreck-it Ralph Cameo
The movie doesn’t just offer nods to movies from the past, but some that have yet to release. That’s typically the case with Disney and Pixar films, taking pleasure in either obviously or subtly referencing movies still in development internally. This time around, it’s the return of a Disney hero that fans will get to enjoy for a brief moment – but they’ll need to stay in their seats until after the movie’s credits to enjoy it.
As the credits sequence is animated in a variety of Polynesian styles and artwork, keep an eye on the right corner as the final credits roll. There, still recognizable despite his Polynesian characterization, is none other than Wreck-it Ralph, the eponymous star of his own Disney movie and the upcoming sequel. We wish there was more evidence of just what that sequel will entail, but as is usually the case, we’ll only know how much the makers if Moana let slip after the movie has hit theaters itself.
4. Alan Tudyk, Vocal Veteran
He may be best known among the Comic-Con community for his role in Firefly and the recent Con Man series, but actor Alan Tudyk is quickly becoming a Hall of Famer for a younger generation of Disney fans. His voices may be too varied to be recognizable, but Tudyk has earned himself some special attention for having appeared in five consecutive Disney Animation feature films. As King Candy in Wreck-it Ralph, The Duke of Weselton in Frozen, Alistair Krei in Big Hero 6, Duke Weaselton in Zootopia, Tudyk had already proven he was indispensable to the studio.
He makes his fifth straight appearance in Moana, playing a role one might not expect given his previous credits. Showing that he and he alone grasps the true meaning of “range,” Tudyk lends his vocal talents to… Heihei, the rooster. Also someone called “Villager #3,” so we’re thinking the rooster was what drew him to the project in the first place.
3. Familiar Frond
In the beginning of the film, audiences see just how caring Moana is for the creatures of the sea, offering some assistance to a turtle making its way to the water’s edge. She shades him from the sun with the help of a palm frond, and while it’s as cute a moment as anyone would expect, it also looks familiar to Disney fans. In short, it’s a reenactment of Stitch doing the same for a pair of turtles, shown during the end credits of Lilo & Stitch.
Someone clearly decided that the moment was too adorable to leave in the credits sequence of Stitch (it appears as a still photo there), slipping Moana into the role of the devoted caretaker.
2. Real-World ‘Whoop’
Star Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson spoke openly about his pride and excitement at the chance to bring real elements of Polynesian culture and beliefs into the role of Maui, and the film follows through on that same respect and excitement. In fact, when Maui is preparing to make his long descent into the realm of monsters, listen closely to the shout he gives as he leaps into the unknown. It sounds something like “Chee-Hoo-Hoo,” but people actually familiar with Hawaii, Samoa, New Zealand, or other Polynesian islands will know its true meaning.
The spelling or power vary from place to place, but the word was traditionally used as something of a war cry, meant to intimidate or simply confuse. Over the years the term has been adopted by different groups for different purposes, turning the phrase into a standard exclamation of excitement, or cheer. But for Maui, it’s just one more way the filmmakers are paying very real – and very subtly – tribute to the culture at the heart of the movie’s story.
1. Post-Credits Scene
Viewers get their first look at Tamatoa – the massive coconut crab with some serious issues in terms of image and elf-esteem – during a storytelling sequence, but he’s every bit as terrifying when Maui and Moana tangle with him in the realm of monsters. Tamatoa is taken care of during the course of the film, proving the the villains always lose in a Disney movie – occasionally being stranded in a hilarious predicament. But stay after the credits, and you’ll get one last gag delivered by the crab.
Still stuck on the back of his shell, Tamatoa urges the audience to help him… finally accusing them of favoritism, claiming that if his name was ‘Sebastian’ and he possessed a Jamaican accent, they would all be rushing to set him right. The line is a clear reference to Sebastian the musical crab from The Little Mermaid, one of the most beloved (and quotable) Disney characters ever to appear on screen.
So there you have it, our breakdown of each and every easter egg, Disney reference, and hint at movies still to come in Moana. If you’ve spotted anything we’ve missed, or have questions unanswered, let us know in the comments!
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