Movies, Books & Disney+

“Moana” Press Conference Brings Out Filmmakers, Actors Including Dwayne Johnson and Lin-Manuel Miranda to Talk Film

We were invited to the press conference for Moana, which officially releases on November 23rd, 2016. The panel consisted of Dwayne Johnson (Maui); Auli’i Cravalho (Moana); Lin-Manuel Miranda (wrote music); Ron Clements (director); John Musker (director); Opeteia Foa’i (wrote music) and Osnat Shurer (producer).

The powerhouse duo of Ron Clements and John Musker (The Little Mermaid, Aladdin) came up with the idea for the film, which was five years in the making – Clements said that was not unusual for an animated movie. John Musker actually wanted to create a film based on the Pacific Islands, which led to a visit for Musker and Clement to Tahiti and Fiji. That trip – their first research trip – provided groundwork for Moana.

Photo copyright Mousesteps

The second research trip included Lin-Manuel Miranda, who had just taken the job. Miranda said that “along with the job offer came a plane ticket to New Zealand, where everyone was already there” at the Pacific Music Festival which features music from all the islands. He continued, “we sort of immersed ourselves in this world, and then Opetaia, Mark (Mancina) and I jumped into a studio and started banging on drums, and started 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 grew up in Hawaii, spending her entire life there so far. She “literally grew up living with pigs and chickens”, which brought laughter from the audience. She continued, “The folklore of Maui is in our curriculum” (at school), and she also was read bedtime stories of Maui.

Dwayne Johnson said that, “To be part of a story, and to bring to life a story of our Polynesian culture in this capacity with our guest partners at Disney…it was a special opportunity for us”. Later in the press conference, it was noted that Johnson also sings his own songs, including the catchy “You’re Welcome”.

While I was at the Moana press day in Burbank a few months ago, one key component stressed in the filming of Moana was the Oceanic Story Trust. This group features people from many walks of life, including historians, artists, archeologists, etc. It ensured that much of the film was as accurate as it could be in regards to Polynesia, including the mythology, but so much more than that. Opeteia Foa’i talked about the Oceanic Story Trust, which was created to “honor and respect the cultures that inspired the movie”. Dances were choreographed by consultants, tattoos checked by tattoo artists.

Water is actually a character in the film, and Clements said it was because “People talked about the ocean like it was alive”. The way the ocean is shown in Moana is in a way it couldn’t have even five years ago, let alone back when The Little Mermaid was created. Clements talked about it as “ground breaking technology”, and also in the way that Moana and Maui’s hair was made to move was revolutionary. We had learned at the press day that hair has often been short or pulled back in animation because it is so hard to work with – both hair and water were avoided as much as possible, but both are prominent in Moana.

Lin-Manuel Miranda has been working on the film for two years, seven and a half months. He knows that because his son just turned two, and he’d found out that he was going to be a father the same day that he received the job. He even went to work in Moana in his Hamilton outfit at times, since those were jobs he held at the same time.

Our video of the Moana press conference

What surprised me most from the press conference was something Clements said about working on his first CG film (which is Moana). He said that with CG, as opposed to hand drawn animation, that “things develop much slower”. Characters have to be designed, modeled, rigged and there is a lot of testing and research. “You have to be patient”. And in the five years since they’ve been working on it, the bulk of the film was “made since last January”. They were used to seeing progress earlier on. During the press day, we learned that they don’t really consider a movie finished until it is in the theater.

We have seen Moana and enjoyed it quite a bit. I’m writing up my review today and then will add that link to this article! The press conference we posted has so much more of the conversation at almost 40 minutes.