*Disney’s “Moana” was Thanksgiving weekend’s box office champ after earning over $80 million during the first five days of release.
Featuring the voices of Auli’i Cravalho, Dwayne Johnson, Rachel House, Temuera Morrison, Jemaine Clement, Nicole Scherzinger, and Alan Tudyk, the film tells the story of Moana, the strong-willed daughter of the chief of a Polynesian tribe, who is chosen by the ocean itself to reunite a mystical relic to a goddess. She sets sail in search of Maui, a legendary demigod and hopes to save her people.
Directed by the renowned filmmaking team of Ron Clements and John Musker (“The Little Mermaid,” “Aladdin,” “The Princess & the Frog”) and produced by Osnat Shurer (“Lifted,” “One Man Band”), “Moana” sailed into U.S. theaters on Nov. 23, and features music from “Hamilton” creator Lin-Manuel Miranda.
EUR/Electronic Urban Report chatted with the filmmakers, animators and visual effects team during “Moana’s” press day back in July, and the story artists explained how they immersed themselves in ancient Polynesia culture in order bring the world of Moana to life.
The “Moana” production team set up an Oceanic Brain Trust, composed of experts from all of the various islands in Polynesia, and they helped the filmmakers authentic the project by bringing in research and teaching classes about their culture. They also attended screenings of the film throughout its various stages of production to make sure the filmmakers “were doing things that were culturally appropriate.”
“We really felt that we should let this incredible place (Pacific Islands) and people drive the style of the film,” said Art Director of Characters Bill Schwab. “The directors and the production designer really wanted to explore a range of style. We want our films to feel like they came from Disney, but we also want each film to really stand alone and feel like a unique looking movie.”
Newcomer Cravalho voices the titular character and Johnson plays the demigod Maui. Both actors are natives of Hawaii, and Dwayne previously said that he saw “Moana” as an opportunity to showcase Polynesian culture to the world. He has his biceps tattooed to represent his Samoan roots, and his character Maui also sports an animated “Mini Maui” tattoo, and he serves as a supporting character.
Mini Maui is Maui’s morally righteous better half. Despite his inability to speak, his primary role is to assist Maui in visually telling their history and the legends of the mission that he and Moana embark on.
**side note: The bookworm in me wondered if Mini Maui” was in any way inspired by the classic Ray Bradbury story, “The Illustrated Man.”**
“There may have been. There wasn’t for me, even though I’m a Bradbury fan,” said Animation Supervisor Eric Goldberg. “Somebody back there may have it in there grey matter, but I don’t think that was as much the inspiration as it was the crew going and seeing how important and representative these tattoos are to the Polynesian cultures. I think that, plus the idea of wanting hand drawn animation in this movie in some form — and the tattoos, seemed a natural.”
“Mona is a voyager, so we need to have something that is not only beautiful but also functional,” said Visual Development Artist Neysa Bové while explaining Moana’s costume design.
“One challenge that I had was to come up with something that was relevant to 2000 years ago in the Pacific Islands,” she added, noting that she was lucky to have the Oceanic Trust, who provide insight on the types of fabrics their ancestors used – including fabrics and colors specific to a chief;s daughter. These elements were used to create Moana’s village and travel costumes.
Polynesia is a culture that generally has been overlooked, so it was important for story artists Dave Pimentel, David Derrick, Jared Bush and Sunmee Joh to “honor and celebrate this culture.”
Moana is a character who not only wants to know who she is, but also who came before her, and this film is “a beautiful message about ancestry.”
“Moana is now playing in theaters nationwide.