HNS got to sit down at Disney Animation Studios and chat with some of the filmmakers who helped bring Moana to life – Producer Osnat Shurer and Director Ron Clements as well as get a sneak peek at some special features included on the blu-ray/ DVD of Moana. We learned all about the creation of these iconic characters, the inspiration behind them, the musical process and much, much more! From Walt Disney Animation Studios comes MOANA, an epic adventure about a spirited teen who sets sail on a daring mission to save her people. Along the way, Moana (Auli’i Cravalho) meets the once mighty demigod Maui (Dwayne Johnson), and together they cross the ocean on a fun-filled, action-packed voyage. Bring home the movie full of heart, humor and oceans of bonus extras!
From concept to theatrical release, Moana was a five-year journey. Director John Musker (who unfortunately couldn’t make it because he was sick) had an idea to do a Pacific Island film and pitched the idea to the studio. Disney liked the idea, but insisted they do a lot of research. This prompted the filmmakers to take a trip to Fiji, which would be just the first of many island trips to come.
There’s a 30-minute “Voice of the Islands” documentary included on the blu-ray/DVD that is beautifully done and is all about the culture of the people who live on the islands, and how the filmmakers incorporated their lifestyle into the film. What became very apparent is the filmmakers’ desire to capture the true essence of the islands and what life is like there. The trip affected them emotionally. The people on the islands view the world in a different way than Americans. They view everyone in the village as family. There’s an extended responsibility of everything being shared. And they joked that teenagers are actually likable there.
Just as the film highlights in the way that the ocean is a character, nature is seen as sacred in a way. “The ocean connects us,” one of the natives from the islands explains. Long gone are the GPS-loving ways we’re accustomed to, on the island you use navigation in a completely different way. They’re taught to use nature, to use stars and their alignment, very much like nature intended. “Moana” actually means “ocean,” which really emphasized how the film chose to highlight the ocean’s importance to the islanders.
On the islands, there is singing and dancing everywhere. They view dancing as a way to tell stories. I also have to point out that one special feature we saw included the hilarious Lin-Manuel Miranda dancing on stage during a local show on one of the islands. The host asked for audience volunteers to come on stage and when he got up there, it was a dance competition – that he won of course.
The making of the music in the film was very extensive and it was very cool to see the process of how all the songs were made. The composers did a lot of jam sessions and took a road trip. Lin-Manuel Miranda was very busy due to the success of Hamilton taking off, and he talked about how he would as a result recruit the Hamilton cast to sing on the demos of songs he was working on. Sadly, we didn’t get to see that part in the features we previewed.
Another trait of the islanders include getting tattoos. This is tradition for men and very important to their heritage. The scene we watched of a man getting tattooed looked incredibly painful! They also showed that coconuts are used in a way that doesn’t waste any of it. Kids are taught not to waste, and they use every part of the coconut for various things. They use everything around them, they don’t treat nature or food or the environment as disposable. They truly cherish it. I couldn’t help but thinking about our own American culture and how we treat so much as disposable. I think the world could learn a lot from the people on these islands.
For the film, they created an “Oceanic Story Trust” where they pulled experts from all kinds of fields to get their input on different aspects of the film as it came together. It was very important for them to get as accurate of a representation of the island people as possible. One example of how the Oceanic Story Trust impacted the film is they had previously included a scene in which Moana was throwing coconuts into the ocean because she was upset. A collaborator spoke up and said this would never happen – no matter how angry someone was, they wouldn’t waste coconuts in this way. The filmmakers took this into consideration and changed the scene to Moana throwing sticks in the sand. There’s also a really funny segment of them using a native’s hair. They had her run, jump, walk, etc to capture the exact movement and implement this to the animated Moana.
The casting of Moana was a challenging one. They listened to hundreds of auditions, and completely blown away with Auli’i Cravalho. She was the big discovery to the filmmakers. They liked Dwayne Johnson for the role of Maui because of his ability to say anything and get away with it. The two are Pacific Islanders, which was important to the filmmakers. The only non-Pacific Islander in the film was the chicken (voiced by Juliard’s Alan Tudyk).
Moana releases on Blu-ray, DVD and On Demand on Tuesday, March 7th! Get your copy HERE!