It’s no surprise that Disney likes to do research. Surely, you might not think about Disney as a research company but the careful devotion to “getting it right” has long been a hallmark that stems back to when the studio was run by Walt Disney himself. From archival footage to Snow White to reference photos of live deer on the studio lot for Bambi, there’s always been a lot of attempt to achieve the best, most believable, product.
That trend unquestionably continues with Walt Disney Animation’s newest feature MOANA. On an early press day, MouseInfo had the opportunity to sit down with filmmakers to learn more about what it took to bring to life the world of Disney’s first Polynesian princess.
Visits to Fiji, Samoa, Tahiti, and even New Zealand helped form the central DNA for the project. Sounds like a rough trip, right?
Disney enlisted an expansive Oceanic Story Trust of experts, historians, and trades people from the Pacific Islands to give input and insights into the various layers of immersion and detail in the film. Whether it was sailing on traditional Fijian sailing vessels, learning traditional island cooking methods, or even just hiking and swimming off the touristy beaten paths, there was a lot of notes and inspiration to be drawn and many of these connections made their way into the final product.
One such personal detail that will go unnoticed by most is a traditional tapa cloth in the background of one scene that is actually patterned after the exact personal family tapa cloth of Story Artist David Derrick. Can’t get more authentic than using an actual traditional fabric!
The ocean itself is also a central character to the film and so the visits to the oceanic locales helped to establish what the connection means to the native peoples. But Directors John Musker and Ron Clements knew that they weren’t making a documentary about the Pacific Islands. Understanding that they were making a movie, the director duo used the research to influence and inform the final direction. Everything was amped up slightly and also caricatured to give it a unique identifiable sense of life. Brighter, more emotional ocean blues and more lushly saturated island landscapes were just some of the means to achieve a more enchanting look at the ancient world.
Music and dance were also heavily researched. You might have heard of one Lin-Manuel Miranda who is involved with the project? Disney snagged his talent ahead of his success this year with “Hamilton” but he is just one of a great team that is also comprised of Mark Mancina and Opetaia Foa‘i. They also extensively researched the sounds of the islands to help form the sound of the film. We’ve already touched on a few articles about the incredible music (here, here, and here), give it all a listen!
MOANA is set three thousand years ago when 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 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.
MOANA sails into theaters on November 23, 2016.