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Get To Know Disney’s New Polynesian Princess ‘Moana’ and It’s Samoan Animator David Derrick

Entertainment 23 Oct 2014   »   by Honestine Pa'ala-Fraser


Move over Anna and Elsa, there is a new Disney heroine coming that the Polynesian community is ecstatic for. Disney has just announced that its next animated feature, Moana, will be released in 2016. Moana will be featured as Disney’s newest princess, successfully adding into their already cooking melting pot now with a Polynesian darling. Originally planned for release in 2018, Moana already has her own fan base, who are all extremely excited for the bumped up date.

Disney has revealed that Moana will be a CG-animated comedy-adventure that takes place in ancient Oceania in the South Pacific. Like our ancestors, Moana is a teenaged “born navigator” that Disney has said, “sets sail in search of a fabled island”. Accompanying on her journey is her hero, the demigod Maui, and together they face tons of adventure along the way. We are so excited for this groundbreaking move by Disney!

However, our new princess isn’t the only reason we should be excited. Behind-the-scenes is David Derrick, a Samoan animator for Disney who is helping bring Moana to life. We got the opportunity to talk to Derrick, as he discusses being an animator, future projects, and his pride in his Samoan heritage.

TWID: What kind of work do you do and what motivates in your (job, career, work)?

DD: I work as story artist at Disney Feature Animation and also as a children’s book author and illustrator. I love telling stories in any medium on print or the big screen. I especially love to teach and entertain people through the natural world. You can see more of my work at

TWID: What are some of the challenges, stereotypes, or barriers that you feel you’ve had to overcome in your line of work?

DD: While my heritage is a melting pot of different ethnicities and cultures the one I’ve always identified the most with is my Samoan Heritage.  My ancestors immigrated to the U.S. from Samoa and faced bigotry and segregation. But despite these setbacks they inculcated pride and excellence in the generations that would follow. I feel that I owe a debt to my Polynesian Ancestors especially Simea Fua. When my eldest daughter was born we made sure to honor her and my ancestor with Simea’s name.

TWID: Who inspires you?

DD: Ancient Polynesian navigators inspire me. They were the greatest navigators. They found the last discoverable land on earth! They did this without the aid of compasses or tools using their uncanny knowledge of the sea and the stars to find islands. For me growing up in Farmington Utah working at Walt Disney Animation Studios seemed like oceans away. But if Polynesian navigators could find new islands then I new I could find my way as a storyteller.

TWID: How do you feel your work contributes to your community? What would you like to do in the near future for your community?

DD: I like to think that through the power of positive storytelling I’m able to have an impact on my community. Whenever I complete a new book I do a modest book tour at the local schools and booksellers. I’ll have a new book coming out this fall entitled “Play with Your Food.”

TWID: Your culture is a big part of who you are. What is a quote or theme you’ve learned from your heritage that you live by and have implemented in your life?

DD: Ancient Polynesians had a close kinship with nature. Their lives depended on their understanding of the natural world around them and their place within it. This relationship is one I am trying to rekindle as I feel that we are too separated from the nature. When I think of my Polynesian ancestors I think of the power of positive perseverance. I believe we all owe a debt to those who have gone before us but, as I previously stated, I feel particularly indebted to Simea Fua, my Samoan ancestor who persevered with elegance and grace in the face of ignorant bigotry.

Keep Moana on your radar, as we will also keep you updated on the new movie.


*Our photo is only fan art, and not the actual ‘Moana’ character

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