All photos courtesy of Walt Disney Studios
Disney’s 56th animated feature film MOANA, tells the story of a young woman on the fabled Motunui Island who sets off on a quest with the legendary demi-God Maui to help save her village. Recently, the voice of Moana, Auli’i Cravalho, Maui himself, Dwayne Johnson were joined by music composers Lin-Manuel Miranda of Hamilton fame and South Pacific musician Opetaia Foa’i as well as directors John Musker and Ron Clements (who also directed classic Disney features like The Little Mermaid) and producer Osnat Shurer to talk about the feature. Lots of information about the production was shared, but here are five important things we learned about Disney’s empowering Oceanic adventure.
1. ) Disney went to great lengths to capture the authenticity of the “Aloha Spirit”
If there was one thing Disney didn’t want to mess up with Moana, it was the authenticity of the Polynesian culture — particularly the “Aloha Spirit.”
“The Aloha Spirit is intangible,” explains Johnson. “It takes you to a different place and brings our Polynesian culture to life — it makes it really special.”
In order to stay true to the spirit and honor the Polynesian culture, producer Osnat Shurer said that the Moana team did in-depth research of the culture. From the music to the tattoos to the stories, they developed relationships with people of the culture and created the Oceanic Story Trust which helped inform the making of the film.
Clements and Musker also cited the critically acclaimed Maori-centric film Whale Rider as a source of inspiration and fused it with films like True Grit, the documentary Maiden Voyage, and The Lion King to tell the story of a girl on a quest to save the world.
For Cravalho, a Hawaiian native, all of this was second nature because she had been around it all her life. She, like Moana, grew up with pigs and chickens. More went to an All-Hawaiian school where the mythology and folklore were in their curriculum and she would hear these stories at bedtime. All of which helped her sink into the titular role.
2.) Ron Clements and John Musker nabbed Lin-Manuel Miranda before the Hamilton craze
Miranda cites Clements and Musker’s The Little Mermaid as his favorite Disney pic so when he went to meet them for the first time to work on the pic, he said he scared them because he quoted an obscure part from the movie.
Miranda found out that he got the job the same day he was going to be a father and before the Broadway smash Hamilton opened. He was working on Moana concurrently as Hamilton was going through previews and when it opened. Juggling should be a challenge for him, but in fact, it wasn’t as crazy as one would think.
“It became my oasis of calm — a good break,” said Miranda. “If I got sick of the Founding Fathers rapping, I could sail across the sea with Maui and Moana. It was the counterweight to the Hamilton phenomenon. I am really grateful for Moana…it kept me grounded.”
To make things even sweeter, Miranda solicited the help of Hamilton cast members Phillipa Soo and Chris Jackson to sing the demos.
“They were like my in-house band,” laughed Miranda.
3.) Lin-Manuel Miranda won a dance competition for the role
When Miranda received the job offer to write music for the movie, he was given a ticket to New Zealand where he attended the Pasifika Festival, which brought together choirs from different islands. Immersing himself in the musical world of Polynesia, he wanted to find the pulse to honor the musical heritage — and this included dancing.
Foa’i, who was meeting Miranda for the first time, was impressed with the Hamilton creator as he jumped on stage at the festival during a dance competition and shook his stuff.
“He ended up winning the competition,” said Foa’i.
Miranda responded, “Luckily, Puerto Ricans can shake their hips too.”
4.) Maui is the new Mrs. Potts
Miranda said that everyone was asking “How did the get the Rock to sing?” The thing is, he didn’t.
“When Dwayne accepted the role, he asked me, ‘What are you giving me to sing?'” said Miranda. “He was really excited for this.”
To gauge his vocal range, Miranda researched YouTube videos of Johnson during his wrestling days when he bust out a guitar and sing and taunt the town he was in. From there, he figured out his capabilities as a singer.
“It was an opportunity to challenge myself,” adds Johnson. “I had such a great time — one of the best times in my career. Especially while working on the song [“You’re Welcome”]. We all love challenges and for this, the bar is set so high because you have to sing in a Disney film!”
Musker chimes in,”Dwayne is the new Angela Landsbury.”
5.) Auli’i Cravalho is one of the most talented — and existential young actors of our time
Moana marks Cravalho’s first job — and considering it’s the voice of an empowering Disney female heroine, it’s not a bad gig. But the 15-year-old is taking the job as seriously as a Hollywood veteran and because it involves her culture which she genuinely cares deeply about, she wants to make sure everything about it is on point.
“I’m excited for everyone to see this film and we are all very proud, but when I first heard they were making this film, I was little wary,” admits Cravalho. “When anyone thinks of making a film about making a film inspired by their culture, they want it to be done right. But Disney has done a wonderful job with the Oceanic Story Trust and the research — all of that has created a well-rounded film.”
Cravalho knows exactly what this means for her culture and her career and thinks that both intersect in an interesting way that will not only be good for her but for everyone else no matter where you are from.
“How do I continue in this [career]and still be Polynesian? It’s an interesting concept,” she points out. “As I continue [to act]and potentially leave my home, does it still keep my grounded? I can honestly say yes. Because being surrounded by family and my culture every day, I seem like I would never lose it. To have a movie and character rooted in who they truly are; inspires me and I hope it inspires other to find out who they are as well.”
Dino-Ray Ramos | Staff Writer