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Getting To Know Walt Disney Animation’s New Adventurous Girl, MOANA
Michael John Lee on Sep 07, 2016. Posted in Editorials, Featured, Movies
The 56th animated feature in the Walt Disney Animation Studios pantheon, “Moana” is the story of an adventurous teen who braves fantastical dangers to restore the natural balance to her island home of Motunui. Over the course of her epic quest, she teams up with a legendary demigod named Maui and experiences a journey of self-discovery. Ron Clements and John Musker, the award-winning writing/directing duo who brought us such beloved classics as “The Little Mermaid” and “Aladdin,” helm this coming-of-age tale that is based on the myths and history of the many cultures of the South Pacific. Special thanks to Disney, Rama’s Screen and other fellow press had the opportunity to speak to several groups of the creative forces behind the movie, and in this behind-the-scenes look at Moana, we’ll offer an introduction to the key characters and extensive work and research that went into their development.
In their research of the South Pacific, Clements and Musker discovered that there was a thousand year gap in the prolific nautical history of the indigenous cultures. According to experts they interviewed, exploration and navigation in the region suddenly stopped some 3,000 years ago, only to resume a millennium later, resulting in the subsequent population of areas including Tahiti, Hawaii, and New Zealand. This mysterious behavioral shift was the seminal idea for the story of “Moana.” As Clements explains, “We came up with a theory, actually, which is the basis of our movie. And there’s a fantasy aspect to it, but what if there happened to be one young girl that was responsible for things starting up again?” And that young girl is Moana.
MOANA is an adventurous, tenacious and compassionate 16-year-old who sails out on a daring mission to save her people. Along the way, she discovers the one thing she’s always sought: her own identity. Directed by the renowned filmmaking team of Ron Clements and John Musker (“The Little Mermaid,” “Aladdin,” “The Princess & the Frog”) and featuring newcomer Auli’I Cravalho as the voice of Moana, Walt Disney Animation Studios’ “Moana” sails into U.S. theaters on Nov. 23, 2016. ©2016 Disney. All Rights Reserved.
With a name that means “ocean” in many of the Pacific languages, 16-year-old Moana is a headstrong youth with a thirst for adventure. The daughter of the island’s chief, she was raised by caring but cautious parents to be the next leader of her people, though she doesn’t see herself conforming with such a pre-ordained, by-the-book destiny. She shares some of the best characteristics reflected in many other modern Disney heroines: like Ariel, she is bold and inquisitive about the world beyond her own home; like Belle, she has an interest in history and tales from the past; like Jasmine, she feels uncomfortable with the restriction of traditional rules; and like Mulan, she doesn’t quite know who she is yet. This last quality is an especially key cornerstone of Moana–as Clements explains, “Really, it has to do with identity…It’s still dealing with issues that you deal with as a teenager with all the outside influences around you, particularly if you live in a world where you seem to sort of not fit in somewhat in terms of the culture around you, and the importance of listening to the inner voice–to what’s inside you in terms of really discovering who you are and who you’re meant to be.”
Musker says the theme of identity extends beyond Moana herself into the entire fabric of the film. “The movie deals with nautical themes, so certainly finding your way is a part of this. The culture itself is a little lost in this movie, they’ve kind of separated from who they were. Maui’s separated from who he was. Moana is trying to get in touch with this inner voice she hears. Through the course of the film, it’s trying to tell you, ‘Listen to that inner voice that’s telling you who you are, and respond to that.\'”
Walt Disney Animation Studios’ artist Jin Kim showcases the look of the title character in the upcoming adventure “Moana.” Says director Ron Clements, “Moana is a vibrant, tenacious 16-year-old growing up on an island where voyaging is forbidden. But Moana has been drawn to the ocean since she can remember and is desperate to find out what’s beyond the confines of her island.” Directed by Clements and John Musker and featuring the voice of Native Hawaiian newcomer Auli’i Cravalho in the title role, “Moana” opens nationwide on Nov. 23, 2016. ©2015 Disney. All Rights Reserved.
Audiences see and understand Moana’s fearlessness early on. In an opening flashback sequence, her grandmother, with whom she has a very strong bond, tells her the rousing and sometimes scary legends of Motunui’s history. And while the other children cower at the thought of the great demigod Maui and the mention of an insidious fire demon, baby Moana revels in it, clapping and laughing and wanting more. This dauntless attitude carries over into Moana’s teen years, when, frustrated with the smallness of her world, she longs to test the stories: in defiance of her father’s one rule of never venturing beyond the reef, a perimeter beyond which all other voyagers have disappeared, Moana wishes to sail into the unknown, find Maui, and compel him to return the heart of the island, thus restoring the natural balance of her homeland. Her desires are put into action when her beloved grandmother basically pulls a Yoda from Return of the Jedi and gives her a quest to fulfill her destiny.
Of course, storytelling and technical innovation in animation are just two of the major pieces of the puzzle. To fully realize the character of Moana, Ron Clements and John Musker needed a special talent to voice their fiery heroine. After auditioning hundreds of actresses from the Pacific Islands, they found their star in newcomer and Hawaii native Auli’i Cravalho. As casting director Rachel Sutton recalls in a promotional featurette for the movie, “Auli’i was the very last girl that I saw, on my last day of casting.” The serendipitous discovery brought several striking parallels between actress and character: not only does Moana bear a physical resemblance to an animated version of Auli’i, but the two were at similar points in their teen years, with Auli’i being 14 when she was cast, and turning 16 one day before the film’s theatrical release. The superficial similarities, though, were strictly coincidental, as Moana’s design came well before the casting stage.
Of greater importance was that Auli’i captured the energy of Moana and was able to play the entire spectrum of emotions asked of her, from the forlorn sadness of an outsider to the fierce courage of an action hero. In one particularly thrilling sequence, Moana and Maui take on swarms of marauding warriors in a hugely blockbuster naval battle in the vein of “Pirates of the Caribbean.” Musker jokes, “It’s a little bit Disney meets Fury Road here. It’s an homage…Please, no lawsuits.” The comparison is apt, given that Moana may very well be the toughest, most get-your-hands-dirty princess Disney has ever had.
MOANA arrives in theaters November 23rd, 2016
MOANA visual development. Artist: Jin Kim, Visual Development Artist.
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#Disney ZOOTOPIA Arrives March 4th, 2016. MOANA Arrives November 23rd, 2016
Tags: Auli\'i Cravalho, Disney, Disney Animation, Moana
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