Moana takes place 2,000 years ago, during a millennium-long gap when various Polynesian civilizations had ceased large-scale naval exploration. Moana—daughter of a chief who limits how far his islanders can venture into the ocean—undertakes an epic journey to find Maui, take a mythically-powerful stone to a secret island, and save the world.
The directors focused on trickster demigod Maui because while we associate him with a Hawaiian island, he’s actually a pan-Pacific figure, popping up in various mythologies. In one of the scenes shown during the panel, when Moana first meets Maui, he thinks the mortal girl is an adoring fan and assumes she wants an autograph. He’s a gregarious, imposing character—perfect for the charm-heavy Dwayne Johnson.
Some of the best animation moments involve Maui interacting with his tattoos, which commemorate his exploits and come to life as two-dimensional features mapped onto the three-dimensional character. As the directors put it, the tattoos—animated by the legendary Eric Goldberg—are so prominent, and Maui is such an egomaniac, “he could literally give you his backstory.”
The music team is a collaborative effort between composer Mark Mancina, world music legend Opetaia Foa’i, and Lin-Manuel Miranda. The Hamilton creator and star got the most rapturous reception of the hour—and the panel members reminded the audience that this will be a musical, so Miranda’s songwriting style should be on full display. (Clements and Musker took care to note that while on the research trip Miranda won an impromptu dance contest during a concert put on by locals.)
Modus operandi for a Disney or Pixar film dictates that the creative leadership goes on a research trip to help inform the story and production style—which for Moana meant an arduous, unenviable two-week slog to several paradisiacal Pacific islands. What this particular trip seems to have crystalized is that Moanawill not come from a place of western interest in Polynesian culture, but heavy research into the history of various island cultures.
The panel began with an epigraph from someone the directors met on that trip: “For years, we’ve been swallowed by your culture. For once, can you be swallowed by ours?” Nowhere is that sentiment better illustrated than through Moana’s special, fantastical relationship with the ocean. In the most heartwarming clip shown during the panel, a young Moana, who knows nothing of the ocean’s dangers, plays by the water, which turns into a character and draws her away from shore with seashells before playfully depositing her back on the beach carried on some driftwood. It’s a cute moment that instantly connected with the audience, and it makes Thanksgiving seem like a long time to wait before we get to enjoy the full movie.
Source: Wired UK
Banner Photo Credit: Disney