That’s how long it took to bring Moana to life. Five years. It was worth the wait.
As Disney’s string of hit “princess” movies rolls along, the pressure on the next one seems to grow. And following in the footsteps of Frozen which happened to be the highest grossing animated film – ever, seems to be a daunting task. Even Lin-Manuel Miranda who wrote and starred in the multiple Tony-award winning play, Hamilton and did both lyrics and music for Moana said, “I will admit the first time I sat down at my piano to work on something for this I remember thinking, don’t think about Let it Go, don’t think about Let it Go, don’t think about Let it Go.” But who better then than the folks that brought us The Little Mermaid to bring this Polynesian princess to life?
Director Ron Clements and Producer John Musker are no stranger to either animated musicals or princess movies. Having been at the helm of Aladdin and The Princess and The Frog in addition to Ariel’s adventures, they know their way around. Using their own talents and teaming up with Emmy, Tony, and Grammy award winning Lin-Manuel Miranda, they have put together a film of love, strength, and hope.
Moana is the story of a 16-year old girl who feels the call of the ocean but who’s father is dead set against her exploring beyond the reef that encircles their island of Motonui. However, when her home is threatened with blight and a lack of food, she bravely sets out alone to find the demi-god Maui and restore life to the land and sea. Armed only with her wits, her bravery, a stowaway chicken named Hei Hei, and a canoe (not your average canoe), she leaves her island. She convinces Maui to join her and together they journey to restore the heart of Te Fiti.
The animation of Moana is simply beautiful. The things they are able to do with water would simply have been impossible to do when The Little Mermaid was created. So many of the elements of the film just seemed real as if the ocean could actually come alive in the way they displayed it on screen. John shared, “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. And 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… There are a lot of things in this movie, even including what was done with the hair, Maui’s hair, Moana’s hair, there are things that were really breakthroughs in technology.”
The heart of the movie is in the story and the songs. Newcomer Auli’i Cravalho and Dwayne Johnson carried the weight of the film on their shoulders and really came through. Most movies have vibrant, interesting villains that have their own personality and backstory. Ursula in The Little Mermaid, Jafar in Aladdin, and Dr. Facilier in The Princess and The Frog all add a twist to the tale, but in this one the main villain doesn’t speak. With the exception of a “shiny” giant crab, none of the villains uttered a word – not even the cute but deadly coconut pirates (yes, coconut pirates – like evil Ewoks). But Auli’i and Dwayne made Moana and Maui so engaging that it didn’t matter. The character of Maui just seemed to suit Dwayne so perfectly. He even said, “Honestly, I had such a great time. One of the best times I’ve ever had in my career was actually working on this project and certainly working on that song (Dwayne’s feature song, “You’re Welcome”) because we all love challenges and this was a challenge that the bar is set so incredibly high in a Disney film to sing.”
And the songs are amazing. They are both familiar and completely brand new at the same time. Together with Mark Mancina who did the score and co-writer/composer Opetaia Foa’i, Lin-Manuel Miranda leaves his own stamp on Disney history. Lin was tapped to add his flair to Moana before Hamilton became a worldwide sensation. He had already won Tony awards for his work In The Heights when they asked if he would take part in this venture and then Hamilton blew up! Hamilton fans will definitely hear Lin’s distinctive voice but at the same time long-time Disney fans will hear familiar tones and styles that hearken to the best Disney has to offer. The soundtrack is a must-have.
Every aspect of the movie is so well crafted and impressively done. The crew, the cast, the folks working on both the front end and the hidden side of the film all seem to have formed a real bond because of their work on this film they love. They’ve become a true ohana. Lin and Dwayne both had children during the making of Moana, Auli’i’s mom got to be a part of it, and just overall there was just a strong sense of family from this group that comes out on screen. From the animation to the music to the voice acting to the singing to the lyrics all come together for an amazing film that families of all ages will love. It is filled with humor, fun, action, and great story-telling in the Disney tradition. Make sure to bring everyone you know to this sure-fire blockbuster hit.
Moana opens today, November 23rd nationwide in theaters everywhere.
- Read more about creating the movie in our earlier blog post.
- Fascinating story about the depth of research that went into Moana and creating her island home