Curiosity, Confidence, Courage, Constancy; the elements of Walt Disney’s magic that brings dreams to life in vibrant colors. The greatest of these is Confidence; the core from which Moana the heroine emerges onto the big screen as the representation of the legacies and histories of Oceania told to us as we lay on the arm pillows of our grandmothers.
Disney dove into the depths of Pacific culture with years spent on islands indulging in the wisdom of elders in the villages, basking in the laughter and songs of our children, and dreaming the spirits that have fed our Island imaginations for lineages. With care and honor, collaborations across the globe summoned the best talents to cast life upon the Oceania story of ancestry, bravery, and destiny. Moana reflects a tale of identity, noble qualities, and community that binds tightly to a courageous journey navigated by ancestors before us.
Moana’s anticipated release has been met with some contention from Pacific scholars, organizations, and community members. Although the wait has been largely and widely celebrated with gleeful excitement, the swell in critiques parallels a growth in Pacific scholarship centered on Pacific peoples and cultures. Naturally, there is hesitation and push-back about the commodification of culture and the perpetuation of a solely exotic Pacific narrative. However, Moana presents the current generation with a modern exploration of their own identity, narrative, and belonging through ancient imaginations of a culture that will always belong to us; no matter who is telling the story.
About The Film:
Moana is a coming-of-age story about the teenage daughter of the high chief of Motunui; a fictional island in the South Pacific. With the voices of ancestors and the counsel of her grandmother, she discovers the fears of her village. Her love for her island and belief in change influences her to leave, sparking on an awe-inspiring fearless journey across the unknown taboo waters to restore and save the village from its own restrictive doubts and fears. Since childhood she develops a strong connection to the Ocean. This bond strengthens Moana to trust that the Ocean will protect her. She learns of the powerful demi-god Maui and captures the secrets of the ocean. Her connection with the ocean sparks a self-awareness and self-knowledge to nurture growth, trust, and love.
It takes a village to make a film. It takes a village to tell our Oceania stories.
Like our ancient storytellers, stories of Maui will once again transcend tradition. With an impressive collaboration of dedication, intelligence, and talent, Disney storytellers brought Pacific experts and artists together to create a fresh twist on our Oceania stories. After all, the essence of our Pacific tales are avant garde. The creative fusion of essential elements of mana allows a feast for the eyes, minds, and spirits that will behold the fearless Moana.
Behind The Scenes
Directors of Moana are the renowned storytellers and filmmakers, Ron Clements and John Musker. They led a group of animation artists to the South Pacific in the early stages of their research and development. “We wanted to go deeper.. to meet people who grew up on the Islands; we wanted to listen and learn what makes these Pacific Island cultures so remarkable,” says Clements.
To dive deeper, Clements and his crew spent at least 5 years researching with ongoing travel to the Pacific; exploring Samoa, Fiji, Tahiti and New Zealand and building impressive teams of Disney collaborators to lay the foundation. For the creative direction, within the 5 years, the Oceanic Story Trust was formed; this is a global advisory group comprised specifically of Pacific experts – anthropologists, academics, educators, linguists, master navigators and cultural advisors. Their main task, to create what will be the most spectacular Disney animation ever created from the steepest depths of Oceania.
“We wanted their voices to influence the film – from the story, to the look of the environments, to the characters. Everything… was all deeply influenced by our advisors, “ says Osnat Shurer, producer of Moana.
During their research missions in Samoa, matais welcomed the Disney research team to meet and learn of the sacred lands and traditional culture. The strength of the shooting waves of Alofaaga blowholes in Savai’i awed them and they were led to explore lava fields fueled with our ancestors’ spirits. On Manono Island, the Disney research team were honored with an ‘ava ceremony; one of the most important formal rituals in Samoa.
When the Disney research team reached Fiji, the local archeologists showed them artifacts, boats and tools; they visited Sigatoka Sand Dunes National Park, and indulged in dining with many locals to include master tattooist, fishermen and enjoying our ancient ‘drink of the gods’, “we drank a lot of kava,” says Clements. As a piece of the trip, they stood quietly and witnessed the making of tapa; loud tapping and women’s chattering and laughter that could be heard from villages near and far.
As they traveled north to Tahiti, the Disney research team canoed and swam in the blue waters and hiked in mountains that would influence the landscape of the film.
Finally, as they made their way to Auckland, New Zealand, the Disney research team attended the Pasifika Festival. This is the largest youth performance celebrating Pacific cultures on the planet. The festival later influenced the film’s music, spiritedly led by Lin-Manuel Miranda, Mark Mancina and Te Vaka’s creator, Opetaia Foa’i.
“The research trips opened our eyes,” says Shurer.
(Winnie the Pooh and Tigger, Too; The Rescuers; Pete’s Dragon; The Fox and the Hound; The Black Cauldron; The Little Mermaid; Aladdin; and Princess and the Frog)
The Wait Will Soon Be Over
On November 23, the world will be captivated by the least likely warrior to have ever hit the main stage. From thousands of hours of research to graphic design and animation – the Pacific will not only be known in Oceania but across the globe to the tallest reach from north to south, and widest grasp from east to west. As long as Moana trails the ocean, the sun will never set in the Pacific.
An elder from Mo’orea asked Clements, “For years, we have been swallowed by your culture [western]; this one time, can you be swallowed by ours?.”
We have been silent, or too slow in swallowing the world with our culture. Much of our ideology is a belief that we are all connected to each other and to all things. The capacity of our stories, pushed Disney’s animation into a whole new level of innovation and collaboration.
The village that creates the film “Moana” brings together an innovative collaboration led by renowned storytellers and filmmakers, Ron Clements and John Musker, directors of Moana, a team of talented animation artists and the intelligence of the Oceanic Story Trust, a global advisory group of Pacific experts – anthropologists, academics, educators, linguists, master navigators and cultural advisors.
Coming November 23, witness the magic and mana of “Moana“ the most spectacular CG animation feature film ever created from the Walt Disney studios and the steepest trenches of Oceania.
Article Written By: Marina Latu