Disney’s Moana will set sail in theaters next week and tells the story of a chieftain’s daughter as she sets out to restore the balance of life in the Polynesian islands with the help of the demigod Maui. In order to accurately and respectfully capture the various cultures and myths in the Pacific Islands, co-directors John Musker and Ron Clements visited places including Hawaii, Fiji and New Zealand for research purposes. Speaking at a press conference, the films cast and crew discussed the process of bringing Pacific Island cultures to the big screen in Disney’s latest animated feature.
Musker and Clements explained how their research trips influenced the film.
“It created the connection to navigation [as seen in the film] and the respect for ancestry. The film was heavily inspired by that. We tried to capture as much as we could.”
Lin-Manuel Miranda, fresh off the success of his Broadway play Hamilton, will provide the music for Moana with the help of composer Mark Mancina and musician Opetaia Foa’i. Miranda discussed the process for this musical collaboration.
“The job offer came with a ticket to New Zealand. We immersed ourselves in this world. Oeptaia and Mark and I started banging on drums and finding a sound honoring the rhythms which come out of this part of the world.”
Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson will provide the voice for Maui and Lin-Manuel Miranda discussed how he came up with a song for the demigod.
“[Dwayne] was excited. For me, I went to YouTube — where all the answers lie — and looked at video of his [wrestling] heel-turn days when he would taunt towns with a guitar. Then it was just about writing lyrics which made sense for Maui.”
Though not known for his singing ability, Dwayne Johnson welcomed the challenge of performing a musical number.
“By the time I got the song, it was in my range, but it pushed me a little. We all love challenges, and the bar is set so incredibly high [when you] sing in a Disney song.”
Miranda revealed that he began working on the songs for the film just as Hamilton was opening.
“During [‘Hamilton’] previews, it was a great break. It was the opposing muscle group. It kept me grounded and kept me writing.”
Co-directors John Musker and Ron Clements wanted the ocean itself to be a character in the film from its earliest stages of development, but revealed that they were initially unsure if such a feat could be pulled off.
“We didn’t know how to do it and we talked to smart people and they didn’t know how to do it. But they said they could figure out [in time.]”
The role of Moana will be voiced by Auli’i Cravalho in her film debut, who discussed why the experience of making this particular movie was important to her.
“I’m 15 going on 16 and working with the best people who are making a film based on my culture. That is something so incredibly special. For me, as someone who is hoping to continue in show biz, I was wondering how I would continue in this and still be Polynesian.”
Cravalho discussed her reservations when she heard that Disney would be making a film about Polynesian culture and revealed what she hopes audiences will take way from the movie.
“Before I was working on this film, I was bit wary of it. You want it to be done right and Disney has done a wonderful job. The Oceanic trust and the research trips produced a film that will hopefully inspire people to learn more and go on their own journeys.”
Opetaia Foa’i also commented on the films cultural representation.
“Our ancestors are happy with this movie, culturally speaking. Other cultures will see it and become interested. But there will also be people of our culture who grew up in the cities and learn about their pasts.”
Dwayne Johnson, who was also hesitant when he heard Disney would be making a film about the Pacific Islands, gave his stamp of approval to the film as well.
“What Opetaia said is very resonant in the pride [Polynesians] will have in the film.”
Moana will also feature the voice talent of Jemaine Clement as Tamatoa, Nicole Scherzinger as Sina, Temuera Morrison as Chief Tui, Rachel House as Gramma Tala and Alan Tudyk as Hei Hei.
Moana will be released in theaters on November 23, 2016.