The Moana cast celebrated Disney's latest animated film at a recent press conference in Santa Monica, California, where they shared the history of their deeply rooted culture and their excitement for the formation of the ‘Oceanic Story Trust,' a trust of Polynesian masters to preserve their heritage and culture throughout the film.
In addition to maintaining the authenticity of the Polynesian culture, filmmakers were challenged to bring the ocean to life and create a unique character like no other. With the sounds of the Aloha Spirit throughout the film, Disney's Moana will sail into the hearts of audiences this Thanksgiving weekend.
Disney's Moana opens in theaters on November 23, 2016.
Moana Cast Interviews
Q: What kind of research went into this film? How did you get that island vibe and the legend so authentic and perfect?
Ron Clements: About five years ago we took a trip to Fiji, Samoa, and Tahiti, which was the basis of the movie in terms of the connection to navigation, to people’s connection to their ancestry, and their respect for nature. A lot of those ideas came from that first research trip. The movie was heavily inspired by the people that we met who have also stayed involved with the movie throughout its production process.
John Musker: Then we took a second trip to the Pacific with our musical team and Lin to the Pacifica Festival.
Lin-Manuel Miranda: I went to New Zealand and the Pacifica Music Festival with its choirs from all the different islands in the Pacific. We immersed ourselves in this world and Opetaia, Mark, and I jumped into a studio and just started banging on drums and really trying to find the pulse of this thing in a way that honored the unique musical heritage and incredible rhythms that come out of this part of the world.
Auli'i Cravalho: I’ve grown up in Hawaii all my life. I grew up in a small town in Kwahala on the Big Island of Hawaii, where I literally grew up with pigs and chickens. I am deeply rooted to my culture. I actually go to an all-Hawaiian school where the mythology and the folklore of Maui is in our curriculum. I’ve listened to his stories as bedtime and I’ve grown up with the Aloha Spirit around me.
Dwayne Johnson: Yes, Auli’i mentioned a term, it's called “Aloha Spirit” and it’s something that is very special. It’s very meaningful to us and our Polynesian culture. For example, those of you who have had the opportunity to visit Hawaii or any of the Polynesian islands, it’s a very special thing. It’s an intangible, that when you get off the plane and you have your feet on the ground there, energetically it takes you to a different place. That’s Aloha Spirit. The opportunity that we had, just as Polynesians to be part of a story and to bring to life a story of our Polynesian culture in this capacity with our great partners at Disney, musically with these masters, was just a really, really special opportunity for us.
Osnat Shurer: One of the great things that happened when we went on these research trips is we met incredible people, people with knowledge in areas of the navigations, of master tattoo artists, weavers, and anthropologists and archeologists, and they became what we loosely called “Our Oceanic Story Trust.” We decided we wanted to make this film together and we would keep checking in with our Trust team. Of course, it’s a fictional story. It’s a story from the imaginations of all these incredible people. We wanted it really to honor and respect the cultures that inspired the movie, everything from every tattoo was checked with our master tattoo artist. The dances were all choreographed by one of our consultants. As we kept going throughout the making of the film I think lifelong friendships have been formed as a result.
Q: For Lin-Manual, Dwayne, and Opetaia, how did you work together specifically on You’re Welcome to figure out what Dwayne’s vocal range would be for that song?
Lin-Manuel Miranda: When Dwayne found out who he was he said, “So what are you giving me to sing?” He was really excited for this and for me. I went to YouTube where the answers always lie and, I’m a big fan of his wrestling days, and there was a time during his heel turn era where he would pull out a guitar and taunt whatever town he was in. I got a really good sense of his vocal range from that 10-minute super cut and the rest of it was just writing lyrics that embody the spirit of Maui, who is this amazing demi-god, a trickster god. Once I had the title, You’re Welcome, which only Dwayne can pull off, we were off to the races.
Q: John, since your visit with The Little Mermaid, Under the Sea, what has happened with technology that allowed you to now make the water an actual three-dimensional character within the film?
John Musker: Someone asked us could you have done that when you did The Little Mermaid and the answer was, well no, obviously. Even five years ago I think it would have been much harder to do it. The technology just keeps developing all the time and we knew pretty early on, when we were in the islands, people talked about the ocean as if it were alive. They caressed it and they had these personal relationships with the ocean, so we knew we wanted the ocean to be a character in the movie. We knew we wanted to have this lava monster in the movie. We didn’t know how to do it and we talked to a lot of very smart people, in terms, and they didn’t know how to do it either.
They were saying that this is going to be really, really hard, but we think we can figure it out before the movie needs to come out and they did. So there was groundbreaking technology in this movie. There are a lot of things in this movie, even including what was done with the hair, Maui’s hair and Moana’s hair. There are things that were really breakthroughs in technology.
Q: Opetaia, I’ve read how when you moved to New Zealand your family was disappointed, and despite all of this you fell into the music. You loved the music, the pressure to go to church and see the gigs on Sunday. Can you tell me a little bit about your ghosts that might concern you, as your music has moved forward in this amazing project?
Opetaia Foa'i: In my culture music is like breathing air, and they can’t understand why somebody would make a career out of playing music. I had to struggle throughout my whole career, my parents saying, “Get a job.” They wanted me to be a doctor, a teacher, and just fighting against all those things all the way through. I was born in a hut, a thatched-roof hut. To find myself here in a big city with Disney, it’s just beyond my dreams.
Q: For Auli’i, coming into this movie, knowing who you’re going to be working with, having the legacy of a Disney movie, and getting to be this empowering heroine, what was that like for you?
Auli'i Cravalho: Pretty good. This is my first job and it’s been an incredible journey for me. I’m 15 going on 16. I’m working with the best people in the entire world, of whom are making a film inspired by my culture, the culture that I have lived every day of my life and that is something so incredibly special for the rest of the world to see. As someone who is hoping to continue in show business, now that I’m in show biz, I was wondering, how would I continue in this and still be Polynesian? As I continue in this and as I potentially might leave my home, what does that make me? Does that still keep me Polynesian? Am I still grounded and rooted in the way that I want to be?
I can honestly say yes, because being surrounded by my family and by the Hawaiian culture every day, it seems as though I would never lose it. To have a film like this that will inspire me and to have a character that will inspire others as well, to become rooted in who they truly are, that’s something that inspires me and that I hope will inspire others as well. Which is what this incredible team put together, so thank you.
Q: For Dwayne, Auli’i, and Opetaia. Being that you guys are Polynesian, what do you hope that our people will take out from watching Moana?
Opetaia Foa'i: For me personally, my journey has been from the village to the city. I can vouch for this movie that our ancestors are happy with this movie, culturally speaking. There are many other cultures that will see this movie and be interested in the movie. But also there will be Polynesians who were born in the cities who will then start the journey back to the roots. That’s what I’m thrilled about.
Auli'i Cravalho: I’m really excited for everyone to see this film. I know my friends are thrilled, my family is thrilled, and I think we’re all very proud of this film. I will admit, and I will admit this truthfully, that before I was working on this film I was a bit wary of it, because I think when anyone thinks of someone making a film inspired by their culture, they want it to be done right. I think that’s something that I can say for both of you as well is that Disney has done a wonderful job.
The Oceanic Story Trust that has been put together as well as the research trips that Ron and John and Oslat went on as well, all of that has created such a wonderful, well-rounded film that I’m excited for my people to see. I’m excited for everyone else to see as well, as they’ll be inspired to research on our culture, because our culture is awesome, and also for them to journey out onto their own missions and to figure out who they are as well.
Dwayne Johnson: To answer your question directly about our Polynesian culture, what Opetaia said I think is very resonant in the pride that they will have in the film. There was some hesitance from a lot of people in our culture about what’s going to happen if our culture’s going to be showcased for the very first time on this level, this capacity from Disney? What’s going to happen?
I can tell you, as Opetaia said and as Auli’i said, with great confidence and what our experience has been we were in such great hands, and anyone who knows John Lasseter knows that he has manna in his soul and in his body. This was a very important project to him, which is why he sent the guys, the boys in and Osnat on this mission for the past five years to do all the research. I feel like the Polynesian people are going to be incredibly proud of the movie.
Over all, all cultures, by the way, I think what’s going to touch upon all of us, regardless of where we’re at in the world, where we’re from, cultures, class, religion, is the little voice that you’ve always got to listen to, your gut, your intuition, you can do things. You can go beyond boundaries and you have to trust that gut and instinct. Those are the things I feel like our people are going to take away and the rest of the world will take away.
Three thousand years ago, the greatest sailors in the world voyaged across the vast Pacific, discovering the many islands of Oceania. But then, for a millennium, their voyages stopped – and no one knows exactly why.
From Walt Disney Animation Studios comes “Moana,” a sweeping, CG-animated feature film about an adventurous teenager who sails out on a daring mission to save her people. During her journey, Moana (voice of Auli‘i Cravalho) meets the mighty demigod Maui (voice of Dwayne Johnson), who guides her in her quest to become a master wayfinder.
Together, they sail across the open ocean on an action-packed voyage, encountering enormous monsters and impossible odds, and along the way, Moana fulfills the ancient quest of her ancestors and discovers the one thing she’s always sought: her own identity.
Portions of this material has been provided courtesy of Walt Disney Studios.