maui moana

Analyzing the Disney Villains: Maui (Moana)

Origin: Moana (2016)

Moana is a little like Pinocchio, where there are several unrelated antagonists–Te Kā, Tamatoa, the Kakamora. But these are dumb obstacles in Moana’s way. They have no personality and no purpose but to provide Moana with action set-pieces. The person serving as the real antagonist, the one preventing her from getting what she wants, is Maui. Some might call him a deuteragonist, but I think he’s enough in Moana’s way to call him the biggest hindrance to the hero’s journey.

Motivation: At first, it seems like Maui is just a macho braggart. He makes these grand gestures and accomplishments to earn the accolades of other people. Then it turns out he was cast out by his human parents and he does these things to earn the praise and validation he missed. Like a child who does stupid stuff to get attention. Kinda sad, actually. So when Moana shows up, the last thing he wants to do is guide her around the ocean. He wants to get back to doing these amazing things like defeating monsters and burying eel guts.

Character Strengths: Even if it comes from a weird place, Maui’s motivation leads to him helping humanity a great deal. Even if he only does it for the love, it still results in humans flourishing and surviving harsh conditions. He may be grandiose, but he is brave, strong, and unmatched when it comes to fighting monsters.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Maui’s ability to change. This is where people call Maui a deuteragonist because he is able to adjust his ways and help Moana in the end. Villains cannot or will not change, which is how traits become fatal flaws. But Maui, by admitting his faults and the fact that he can’t do everything (like when Moana helps get away from Tamatoa), shows capacity for development in light of new evidence.

Evilness: Mostly, Maui is selfish and has a big ego. He’s become a narcissitic celebrity, thinking everyone’s his fan. And the problem with providing gifts for people, they will always turn around and say “yeah, but what have you done for me lately.” And in his quest, he stole the heart of Te Fiti. The end result was that the heart was lost in the ocean. Maui lost his fish hook and was exiled to an island (because he can do anything but float).

Tools: Besides demigod strength and immortality, we’ve got to mention his hook. A gift from the gods, this allows Maui to shapeshift into different animals (as long as he stays in practice). He won’t venture out into danger without it (and I wouldn’t want to either). He’s also an expert sailor (as were many of the men around this time) and teaches Moana ocean navigation.

I’m not sure if this is real or artistic license, but one of Maui’s tattoos acts as his conscience. A little monochrome figurine, Mini Maui silently acts out what he should be doing–choosing kindness, patience, and sympathy instead of feeding his own ego. Without this, Maui might fall into the category of “trickster” god (which he probably is — we don’t know how he got all these gifts for humankind, but a portion of them were likely gained through deception, as that’s how he treats Moana).

Complement to the Hero: Pretty direct, as one would expect from a companion. The best partnerships are those where they have the same goal, but opposite personality traits. Moana is selfless, patient, and humble. Maui is not. This provides great conflict and great humor.

Fatal Flaw: Maui has crippling insecurity, given that he was abandoned by human parents and raised in the shadow of gods with ultimate power. So he’s just a teensy bit loose in knowing where he stands in the world. Thus, he’s never going to admit that he’s wrong. Not to mention he’s severely dependent on his hook. This hook is what got him through his godly feats, and he won’t even continue the movie until he goes and gets it. The insecurity follows him up until the climax.

Method of Defeat: With his hook damaged, Maui refuses to help Moana restore the heart of Te Fiti, admitting that he’s nothing without it. Moana goes on alone and is nearly killed But in a face-heel-turn worthy of a wrestler (see what I did there?) Maui returns, distracting Te Kā and sacrificing his hook. Moana restores the heart and Maui survives. Te Fiti even gives him a new fish hook as thanks (after he apologizes).

“Shark head!”

Final Rating: Four stars

Previous Analyses
Dawn Bellwether (Zootopia)
Bowler Hat Guy (Meet the Robinsons)
John Silver (Treasure Planet)
Yokai (Big Hero 6)
The Agent (Bolt)
The Spirits (Frozen II)
King Candy (Wreck-It Ralph)
Abuela (Encanto)
Prince Hans (Frozen)
Shere Khan (The Jungle Book)
Aunt Sarah (Lady and the Tramp)
Yzma (The Emperor’s New Groove)
Percival C. McLeach (The Rescuers Down Under)
Ichabod Crane (The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad)
Lady Tremaine (Cinderella)
Governor Ratcliffe (Pocahontas)
Pinocchio’s Villains (Pinocchio)
Sykes (Oliver and Company)
Alameda Slim (Home on the Range)
Rourke (Atlantis: The Lost Empire)
The Evil Queen (Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs)
Ursula (The Little Mermaid)
Dr. Facilier (The Princess and the Frog)
Gaston (Beauty and the Beast)
Willie the Giant (Mickey and the Beanstalk)
Hades (Hercules)
The Queen of Hearts (Alice in Wonderland)
Jafar (Aladdin)
Shan Yu (Mulan)
Man (Bambi)
Clayton (Tarzan)
The Horned King (The Black Cauldron)
Mother Gothel (Tangled)
Cobra Bubbles (Lilo and Stitch)
Cruella De Vil (101 Dalmatians)
Madame Medusa (The Rescuers)
Captain Hook (Peter Pan)
Amos Slade (The Fox and the Hound)
Madam Mim (The Sword in the Stone)
Claude Frollo (The Hunchback of Notre Dame)
Scar (The Lion King)
Prince John (Robin Hood)
Edgar (The Aristocats)
Ratigan (The Great Mouse Detective)
Maleficent (Sleeping Beauty)

Eric Juneau is a software engineer and novelist on his lunch breaks. In 2016, his first novel, Merm-8, was published by eTreasures. He lives in, was born in, and refuses to leave, Minnesota. You can find him talking about movies, video games, and Disney princesses at where he details his journey to become a capital A Author.

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