Three thousand years ago, 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 once-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. Directed by the renowned filmmaking team of Ron Clements and John Musker (“The Little Mermaid,” “Aladdin,” “The Princess & the Frog”) and produced by Osnat Shurer (“Lifted,” “One Man Band”), “Moana” sails into U.S. theaters on Nov. 23, 2016.
Although not mentioned in the official synopsis, “Moana” is Disney’s first Pacific Islander princess. Auli’i Cravalho lives in Hawaii as has her family for hundreds of years. The film has tried to be inclusive towards Pacific Islanders behind the scenes. Cravalho’s co-star, Dwayne Johnson, spent part of his childhood with his mother’s family in New Zealand, Samoa and Hawaii. Taika Waititi is one of the four screenwriters. His father is Māori; descended from Polynesian explorers who first inhabited New Zealand 800 years ago. One of the composers, Opetaia Foaʻi, is the founder and frontman for the South Pacific roots band, Te Vaka. Yes, four Pacific Islanders involved in a film about Pacific Islanders is noteworthy by Hollywood standards. Rounding out the diversity are Osnat Shurer producing, Pamela Ribon as a second screenwriter, Lin-Manuel Miranda appears to be the lyricist and his on-stage wife from “Hamilton”, Phillipa Soo, is playing a villager. Both will sing in the film.
Ron Clements and John Musker directed some of Disney’s most beloved modern classics, including “The Princess and the Frog”. The 2009 film was the first to have an African-American princess. However, its under-performance at the box office was blamed on not appealing enough to boys. Notice how Moana’s demigod guide is voiced by Dwayne Johnson. His WWE alter ego, The Rock, remains one of the most popular wrestlers of all time and his real name is becoming synonymous with action. He’s like the manliest man anyone could find. Then, there’s Moana. Princesses can’t just be princesses anymore so Moana will also have powers she has to learn to control.
The color palette for “Moana” is beautiful, reminiscent of the Hawaiian set “Lilo & Stitch”. When Maui is first introduced, the animation is based off the tatau traditions in Polynesian culture. The Pacific Islanders have worn tattoos for over 2,000 years.
Instead of focusing on an oral tradition, the tattoos told the story of their family, their accomplishments and where they belonged. Dwayne Johnson continues that tradition on his body. Although not tattooed as extensively as Maui, Johnson spent 60 hours getting tattooed in the Samoan tradition and adds to his tattoos with each new significant life experience. Taika Waititi has several Maori tattoos in various places.
If everyone involved is allowed to contribute the best of themselves without too much Hollywood homogenizing, this should turn out to be an excellent film.
Moana opens in the United States on November 23, 2016.