'Moana,' wayfinders and wanderlust

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"Moana" has inspired new offerings at Oahu's Aulani, a Disney Resort & Spa, including photo opps with the title character.
"Moana" has inspired new offerings at Oahu's Aulani, a Disney Resort & Spa, including photo opps with the title character. Photo Credit: Courtesy of Disney
Eric Moya
Eric Moya

Disney's "Moana" remained the No. 1 movie in the U.S. for the second week in a row, bringing its U.S. box office total to nearly $120 million since its Thanksgiving-weekend release.
 
The animated film is not a Hawaii story per se, although the Polynesian heritage that permeates Aloha State culture is front and center. For starters, Dwayne Johnson plays Maui, a demigod from Polynesian mythology (and the Valley Isle's namesake).
 
The opening scene pays homage to Polynesian storytelling traditions, with a group of children encircling the title character's grandmother Gramma Tala (voiced by Rachel House) as she recounts a legend that leads to Moana's central quest.
 
Adding to the movie's Aloha State ties, Aulii Cravalho, the teenager who provides Moana's voice, is a Hawaii native, and she has become a tourism ambassador of sorts for her home state as she promotes the movie.
 
In a sense, "Moana" is, in Hollywood parlance, a Hawaii prequel; its title character's journey echoes that of the ancient Polynesian wayfinders who navigated the Pacific 2,000 years ago, leading to the discoveries of modern-day Tahiti, Hawaii and New Zealand.
 
At Maui's Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua, wayfinder lore is at the heart of a new "Story of the Stars" experience being offered as part of the hotel's Jean-Michel Cousteau Ambassadors of the Environment Program. Kala Baybayan, an apprentice navigator, teaches guests about wayfinder history and offers a lesson on using a star compass.
 
Naturally, "Moana" has inspired some new offerings at Aulani, a Disney Resort & Spa. The Oahu property is offering photo ops with Moana, fireside story times and "Uncle's Kahakai Canoe Race," where guests build model canoes and race them at the resort's lagoon.
 
If the movie continues to resonate with audiences, it will be interesting to see how it affects tourism offerings in the state (or in other Pacific destinations, for that matter). Might Hawaii see a bump in interest like that enjoyed by Norway after the release of "Frozen"?
 
In late October, Hawaiian Airlines unveiled an Airbus A330 clad in "Moana" livery. At the time, Avi Mannis, Hawaiian's senior vice president of marketing, said that while the carrier has been presented with similar partnership opportunities in the past, "this one, because of the celebration of voyaging and because of its setting, felt really uniquely well suited to what we do traveling across the Pacific."

Surely that's a theme that the state's tourism industry can get behind.

UPDATE: This article has been revised to reflect "Moana's" box office performance this weekend.

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