MOANA: A MBTI Analysis

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Stepping back and looking at the bigger picture of Moana, Disney had a huge responsibility in this film to portray Polynesian culture as accurately as possible to avoid making the same mistakes they made with Pocahontas. The company went so far as to form the Oceanic Story Trust, a group of experts on different facets of Polynesian culture, to ensure they’d get it right, which they almost did (depending on who you ask).

Polynesian culture is very Si and Se oriented. Just in the song “We Know the Way”, there’s clear evidence of both so perfectly:

We are explorers reading every sign (Se/Ni). We tell the stories of our elders in a never ending chain (Si/Ne).

In order to accurately capture the essence of Polynesia, they had to rely on the prevalent legends and myths, which is where they got Maui. I’m not an expert, but from all I’ve heard on Polynesian myths from my family, there isn’t really a strong element of a “calling”, instead there’s more of a theme of being chosen. It’s pedantic, but there’s a difference. If you’re chosen, there’s a reason someone chose you. Usually it’s because a woman is beautiful or has a special talent. For men, it’s because they’re strong, fierce, and brave, and have proven it. Family lineage is huge, as well as chance.

They had to represent Si, which would be easy given the time period they chose the film to take place. Even now, Polynesian traditions are everything. Si/Ne is represented in cultural traditions, exhibited by Moana’s family and village. Yet Disney also had to give credence to the culture’s most notable feat, that of exploration, navigation, and expansion (Se). And to have an interesting plot, there has to be tension between the two. That’s where Moana comes in. In a lot of ways, I think Moana mirrors the story of Maui, serving as an intermediary between the people and the gods. But unlike Maui who proved himself to be placed on demigod status (depending on the version of his story you’re going by, that is), Moana was deliberately chosen by the ocean. I think the perspective of something being a “calling”, along with a strong awareness of it, is a modern interpretation of these myths created by the writers of Moana, adding to the dynamism of the character. Ultimately the purpose of her character is demonstrating the importance of exploration and navigation, or Se Polynesian values.

This explains my own inclination towards typing Moana as an ESFP. It makes more sense to see the Ni coming from the ocean, not from Moana herself. Because if the ocean were a god (which it practically is), there would be a reason she was chosen vs. Moana propelling herself as the chosen one. Even though both are obviously at play in the film, the “chosen” aspect makes more sense given the context of the culture it’s derived from. The chosen element is also evident within the film itself, with the ocean giving her a taste of it’s world to baby Moana only after witnessing her care for the baby turtle’s safety. Her natural Se fascination for the ocean creates her ultimate Ni destiny.

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Moana: ESFP

Words I’d use to generally describe Moana are: daring, brave, persevering, determined, strong, adaptable, swift, fun-loving, caring, adventurous, a little bit aggressive, and forceful.

Se-dominant, because she reacts quickly to situations and is physically adept. She also is quite skilled at learning by doing, like way-finding. She seems to act without needing to think about it, especially when in peril. She longs to experience the ocean and what is beyond the reef in a compulsory way, which is strongly evidenced in her childhood. She is constantly “doing”, whether it be dancing with Tala, fixing huts, or coming to Maui’s aid time and time again while retrieving his hook or fighting Te Ka. From Personality Junkie on ESFPs:

“ESFPs are generally adaptable and open to new experiences. Despite their status as Extraverts, they, like other SP types, are often more interested in “doing” or being otherwise entertained than they are in sitting around talking. While they can certainly be chatty at times, Se, by nature, is not a highly verbal function. ESFPs often express themselves through action rather than words, showing their love and thoughtfulness through gifts or acts of kindness.
 
Compared to Si, Se is more liberal and novelty-oriented with respect to sensations and the material world. Se types love novel sensations, physical thrills, and material comforts. They are “sensation-seekers,” relishing novel experiences and the thrill of action.”

Fi-auxiliary because when she’s not doing, she is internally wresting with whether she should go along with her chief training, or follow her true desires to explore beyond the reef. The only person she shares the full truth of this internal struggle with is Tala, someone she trusts, after she is discouraged for attempting to venture off the island by her parents. Ultimately Moana decides not to stay on the island to appease everyone’s expectations, but to disobey her father. Paired with Se, she seizes the present-moment opportunities she’s presented with in returning the heart and saving her island — finally able to follow her true self.

“ESFP’s Fi grants them a good sense of inner control, independently managing and regulating their emotions.”

Some of the lyrics to “How Far You’ll Go” show Fi and how she longs to be authentic to herself and her calling:

“I can lead with pride, I can make us strong, I’ll be satisfied if I play along (Se’s tendency towards adaptability), But the voice inside sings a different song,
What is wrong with me?”
(Fi’s awareness of true inner desires).

Moana gains Te-Ka’s trust by reminding her of who she is, pushing her to be authentic, “You know who you are” (which is the best scene of the film!). And at the end, Moana chooses a shell, opposed to the traditional stone, to place at the marae in the mountains of Motunui as an honest representation of herself.

Te-tertiary, because she’s rather good at delegating and can be quite direct and forceful at times in order to get others to do what she needs to get done (mostly with Maui). While some may argue that she uses Fe, seen through her motive to save her people while staying loyal to the rules for so long, this is actually tertiary Te at work. From Personality Junkie:

“ESFPs prefer to make decisions that will maintain harmony. They use Te to respond to outer stimuli in a practical and logical way. They have a desire to be responsible and “do things by the book” because tertiary Te combined with Sensing is focused on following external rules. ESFPs are not always comfortable expressing their judgments, especially early in their development. This can lead them to merely adapt rather than assert themselves.”

The moments when Moana practically insults Maui as a way to get him to do what she wants are signs of tertiary Te working with Fi:

“At times, that Fi intensity of emotion comes out through Te in the form of biting or sarcastic remarks, something ESFPs need to be wary of. Their Te is particularly active when proffering advice, at times leading them to seem preachy or condescending.”

Ni-inferior, because she trusts the fact that the ocean chose her…eventually. It’s inferior because, when paired with Fi, she grapples on whether to follow the voice instead of embracing the here and now of her assignment on the island (Se-Te). As a healthy ESFP, she repeatedly pushes the Ni “sense of meaning” away…up until Tala gives her direct reason not to by showing her the boats, and when she finally accepts her destiny.

Why Moana is not ENFJ:

As for her seeming like an Fe-dominant, for one, Auli’i Cravalho, Moana’s voice actress, is likely an ENFJ, so some of her natural characteristics are assimilated into the character, such as her expressions. Also, in terms of the common argument for Moana having the Fe-based emotional intelligence to manipulate others, I think this describes what’s going on:

“Extraverted Sensing is also good at sizing up a situation. They seem to almost intuitively know what they can get away with in a certain situation and just how far they can push it. This comes from experience of taking risks, being burned, and eventually understanding where the line is that they can’t cross.

Although ESFPs can present as warm and inviting, this is best understood as an Se social performance rather than a natural expression of feeling. The natural direction of their Feeling is inward (i.e., Introverted Feeling (Fi)). Fi prompts ESFPs to manage their emotions on a largely independent basis.”

She doesn’t really seem to manipulate Maui very much in an emotional way, as in Fe empathy. When she tries to appeal to Maui’s emotions when he wants to gives up, it doesn’t work. She’s more-so convincing in her determination, plus as I said earlier, she can be forceful. Force (Se-Te) is her chosen tactic more than emotional manipulation: “I am Moana of Motunui. You WILL board my boat and restore the heart of Te Fiti.”

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“Moana” (The Ocean): INFJ

Kind of unnecessary to type the ocean, but, why not? It’s a character in this story. Seeing as the ocean chose Moana, it makes sense that it would be especially good at finding “the right” person to help get Te Fiti’s heart to her. The ocean guides her to Maui and doesn’t scold her when she wants to give up, showing empathy. One can surmise that the ocean summoned Gramma Tala in her Manta Ray form in order to get Moana back on track.

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Maui: ESTP 

Strong, playful, likes attention and praise. Similar to Moana, Maui is perceptive to his environment and physically skilled, showing dominant Se. He’s also quite muscular and adorned his body in tattoos, showing his desire to present himself in a specific way. He uses his Ti to problem solve and teach Moana the complexities of way-finding. Tertiary Fe in his desire to be validated. He is strongly driven by his ego, showing inferior Ni in his reluctance to do Moana’s bidding, for fearing the repercussions, without seeing the ultimate purpose of why returning the heart needs to be done.  “Mini Maui” – his tattoo conscience – is pretty Fe/Ti oriented, as further evidence for his type as ESTP.

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Chief Tui: ESTJ

Very protective. Dominant Te because he enforces the rules of the village, and teaches Moana the flow and structure of Motunui. Auxiliary Si because he learned from the mistakes of his youth. He would rather play it safe then venture out of the reef, and tries to protect Moana from doing the same thing. Tui cares to do things the more “traditional” way in “Where You Are”. He clearly cares for Moana a lot and is a good father.

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Sina: ISFJ

She doesn’t have enough screen-time to fully say, but she is supportive and understanding of her daughter’s desire to save her island by venturing past the reef, which I could see a mature ISFJ doing through Fe empathy. Polynesian culture is also extremely Si-oriented, as shown in her and Tui’s contributions to “Where You Are”.

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Gramma Tala: ENFP

Quirky and aware of it, calling herself the “village crazy lady”. Hippie, believes in reincarnation. While there aren’t many signs of overt Ne, besides her individualistic bent and connection to the spiritual world, there are signs of Fi, like when she asks Moana, “Do you know who you are?” when Moana starts to lose faith. Her knack for story-telling shows a respect for Si. Her overall role in Moana’s life is pushing Moana to reach her full potential, something that ENFPs naturally excel in.

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Tamatoa: ESTP

Loves shiny things, has a low moral code, and desires to be beautiful. Se dominant in his propensity to be heavily influenced by his environment and need for shiny treasures. The lyrics to “Shiny” are all about more superficial Se-Fe values, clearly showing a lack of Ni. Ti as evidenced in his desire to understand what kind of “creature” Moana is. And like Maui, tertiary Fe in his need for social approval and attention. His charming sense of humor also points to Fe’s need for attention.

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Te Fiti/Te Ka: ESFJ

ESFJ because the wrath of a scorn ESFJ is particularly dreadful, which would explain Te Ka. She’s basically mother earth so it’d make sense that she’d be up in arms without her heart and her ability to provide for her creations. Incredibly nurturing once she’s back to her old self. Inspiration for this typing stem from the legends of Huahine, and for the tendency for “fenua” or land to be a feminine, nurturing entity in Tahitian culture, likely the source of inspiration for Te Fiti.

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