Polynesian guests have taken to social media to criticize the choreography of the “Moana” section of the “Magic Happens” parade, which recently returned to Disneyland.
“Magic Happens” was only performed for two weeks in 2020 before Disneyland Resort shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It returned mostly the same as it was before but “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah” was removed. Now that more guests are getting the chance to view the parade, those from the Pacific Islands and of Polynesian descent are expressing disappointment with the “Moana” section.
Hawai’ian TikTok user @kehanuolani shared a video disapproving of the choreography, writing, “Y’all should not have put us in the front row of this parade[.] Not [sic] hate to the girl who’s playing Moana but the choreographer needs to do some different work[.]”
TikTok user @leagafaiaboi09 wrote in their video of the hip hop choreography that makes a mockery of traditional hula, “Okaaaayyy hold TF up! WTF is this?? Lmao[.]”
User @himynameisjjulie was a bit nicer in her critique, writing, “Thought Moana was about to drop them apple bottoms” but adding in the caption, “Cutest Disney Parade!!”
A Hawaiian friend of WDWNT and frequent Disneyland guest told us, “Hula is the telling of a story with your hands. It’s about the ʻāina and the land. This is a complete [bastardization] of the culture. It would be better for her to just stand there and wave.” He said the Kakamora performers that follow Moana’s parade float were okay.
He also noted that he hates the fake-looking Maui suit, proposing that Disneyland instead recruits an actual Polynesian man to serve as the character.
Hula is a complex ancient Hawai’ian dance that interprets the words of a chant or song into movement. Other Polynesian cultures have similar dances, but hula is specific to Hawai’i.
Hula is sometimes used in a religious context to honor Hawai’ian gods and goddesses. Historically, Christian missionaries tried to ban or significantly alter hula to meet their own cultural standards. It later became co-opted for tourist performances. Thankfully, native Hawai’ians have been able to keep the original tradition alive.
Co-choreographers Stephen DiSchiavi and Sarah Kobayashi spoke about the “Magic Happens” choreography in a video for Disney Parks Blog back in 2020. DiSchiavi said of the parade overall, “Part of my, like, research in thinking about developing this choreography is thinking about those magical moments in the movies.”
Kobayashi said of this particular sequence, “For the ‘Moana’ choreography, we have a new prop. It’s a veil poi, creates beautiful ocean imagery. The choreography itself is sort of a contemporary look on hula, mixed with hip hop.”
The veil poi props are used by ocean-inspired dancers in front of Moana’s float.
According to her LinkedIn profile, Kobayashi no longer works for Disney as of March 2020. DiSchiavi currently works as a Disney Maintenance Choreographer, to “create and maintain show quality and integrity on a daily basis.”
Watch our video of “Magic Happens” during the day below. The “Moana” portion begins about 3 minutes into the video.
Disney has been making a more concerted effort to be respectful and inclusive of all cultures. In 2020, they added Inclusion as the fifth key of the Disney experience, joining Safety, Courtesy, Show, and Efficiency. Disney has committed to “cultivating an environment where all people feel welcomed and appreciated for their unique life experiences, perspectives and culture. Where we celebrate allyship and support for each other. And where diverse views and ideas are sought after as critical contributions towards our collective success,” per the Disney Parks Blog, and they say the fifth key is the center of that philosophy.
Mannequins wearing hijabs have been spotted at World of Disney in Downtown Disney District. A mannequin in a wheelchair and another with a cochlear implant were added to Creations Shop in EPCOT earlier this year. Disneyland, and later Magic Kingdom, added dolls in wheelchairs to “it’s a small world.” A similar update is coming soon to “it’s a small world” in Disneyland Paris.
High school marching bands have been told to remove or cover offensive Native American imagery from their uniforms before performing at Disney Parks. Disney covered a Native American caricature on a logo at the Main Street Confectionery in Magic Kingdom and changed a mural at Peter Pan’s Flight to remove the word “Indian.”
Last year, Cast Members were instructed to start addressing guests as “friend” instead of “sir” or “ma’am” to be more inclusive of all genders. “Ladies and gentlemen” was removed from pre-fireworks announcements in 2021.