Building Entertainment: The Animated Films of the Walt Disney Studio. Moana

Welcome to my weekly discussion of the animated films of the Walt Disney Studio. I’m proceeding mostly chronologically. The title comes from a quote from Walt, “I never called my work an ‘art’ It’s part of show business, the business of building entertainment.”

Title: Moana

Year: 2016

Source materials : Polynesian legend of Maui

Budget: $150–175 million

Box office: $643.3 million

Plot: On the Polynesian island of Motunui, the inhabitants worship the goddess Te Fiti, who brought life to the ocean, using a pounamu stone as her heart and the source of her power. Maui, the shapeshifting demigod and master of sailing, steals the heart to give humanity the power of creation. However, Te Fiti disintegrates, and Maui is attacked by Te Kā, a volcanic demon, losing both his magical giant fishhook and the heart to the depths.

A millennium later, Moana, daughter of Motunui’s chief Tui, is chosen by the ocean to return the heart to Te Fiti. However, Tui arrives and takes Moana away, causing her to lose the heart. Tui and Moana’s mother, Sina, try to keep her away from the ocean to prepare her for ascension as the island’s chief.

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Years later, a blight strikes the island, rotting the coconuts and dwindling the number of fish caught. Moana suggests going beyond the island’s reef to find more fish, and to know what is happening but Tui forbids it. Moana tries conquering the reef but is overpowered by the tides and shipwrecked back on Motunui.

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Moana’s grandmother Tala shows her a secret cave, where a number of ships are hidden, revealing to Moana that their people used to be voyagers. Tala explains they stopped when Maui stole Te Fiti’s heart and that Te Kā’s darkness is poisoning the island, but it can be cured if Moana finds Maui and makes him restore the heart of Te Fiti, which she gives to Moana. Tala falls ill shortly after and dies.

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That same night, Moana sets sail on a camakau found in the cavern. She is caught in a typhoon and shipwrecked on an island where she finds the stranded Maui, who traps her and steals the camakau, but Moana catches up to him with help from the ocean. She demands that Maui return the heart but he refuses. Maui is accompanied by a sentient “Mini-Maui” tattoo, acting as his conscience. They are attacked by Kakamora—coconut-armored pirates—who seek the heart, but Moana and Maui outwit them.

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Moana realizes Maui is no longer a hero, and convinces him to redeem himself by returning the heart. Maui first needs to obtain his magical fishhook, which is located in Lalotai, the Realm of Monsters, and is in the possession of Tamatoa, a giant, greedy coconut crab. Maui and Moana go to Lalotai and he retrieves his fishhook while Moana distracts Tamatoa, but Maui discovers he cannot control his shapeshifting and loses self-confidence, quickly becoming overpowered by Tamatoa. Moana’s quick thinking allows them to escape with the hook.

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Maui reveals that his first tattoo was earned when his mortal parents rejected him. After reassurance from Moana, Maui teaches her the art of sailing and regains control of his powers. The two arrive at Te Fiti’s island, only to be attacked by Te Kā, who badly damages Maui’s fishhook. Fearful he will lose his hook, and therefore his power, Maui angrily abandons Moana, who tearfully asks the ocean to find someone else to restore the heart. The ocean obliges and takes the heart from Moana. Tala’s spirit appears, inspiring Moana to find her true calling. She retrieves the heart and with full courage sails back to confront Te Kā.

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Maui returns, having had a change of heart, and buys Moana time to reach Te Fiti by fighting Te Kā, destroying his fishhook in the process. Moana discovers Te Fiti is missing, and realizes Te Kā is a corrupted Te Fiti without her heart. Moana tells the ocean to clear a path, allowing her to restore Te Fiti’s heart, transforming her back to normal. Te Fiti then heals the ocean and islands of the blight. Maui apologizes to Te Fiti, who restores his fishhook and falls into a deep sleep turning herself into a mountain.

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Moana bids farewell to Maui, returning home where she reunites with her parents. She takes up her role as chief and wayfinder, leading her people on a voyage.

Background and Animation: After directing The Princess and the Frog Ron Clements and John Musker started working on an adaptation of Terry Pratchett’s Mort, but were unable to acquire the rights. Musker began reading up on Polynesian mythology, and learned of the heroic exploits of the demigod Māui. Musker and Clements wrote a treatment and pitched it to John Lasseter, who recommended that both of them should go on research trips. In 2012, Clements and Musker went on research trips to Fiji, Samoa, and Tahiti to meet the people of the South Pacific Ocean and learn about their culture.

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Clements and Musker were fascinated to learn during their research that the people of Polynesia abruptly stopped making long-distance voyages about three thousand years ago. Native peoples of the Pacific resumed voyaging again a thousand years later. They recruited experts from across the South Pacific to form an Oceanic Story Trust, who consulted on the film’s cultural accuracy and sensitivity as the story evolved through nine versions.

Taika Waititi 1 wrote the initial screenplay. Aaron and Jordan Kandell joined the project during a critical period to help deepen the emotional story architecture of the film. They are credited with developing the core relationship between Moana and Maui, the prologue, the Cave of the Wayfinders, the Kakamora, and the collector crab Tamatoa. Jared Bush received sole credit as the writer of the final version of the screenplay. The scene in which Maui and Moana encounter the Kakamora is an intentional homage to Mad Max: Fury Road.

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In many European countries, the name of the titular character, Moana, was changed to Vaiana due to a trademark conflict.

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One of the reasons for using computer animation was that the environment, including the ocean, benefited much more from the use of CGI as opposed to traditional animation. Eric Goldberg worked on the hand-drawn animation used to depict Maui’s sentient tattoos. In the final cut, only Maui’s tattoos are hand-drawn.

Music: The songs were written by Opetaia Foa’i, Mark Mancina, and Lin-Manuel Miranda, while the score was written by Mancina. The lyrics are in English, Samoan, and the Tokelauan language.

Lin-Manuel Miranda is known for creating and starring in the Broadway musicals In the Heights and Hamilton. He co-starred in the film Mary Poppins Returns. Miranda’s awards include a Pulitzer Prize, three Grammy Awards, an Emmy Award, a MacArthur Fellowship, three Tony Awards and a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Miranda was awarded the Kennedy Center Honor in 2018. Opetaia Foa’i is a singer/songwriter with the group Te Vaka, an Oceanic music group that performs original contemporary Pacific music or “South Pacific Fusion”.

Songs:

  • “Tulou Tagaloa”
  • “An Innocent Warrior”
  • “Where You Are”
  • “How Far I’ll Go”
  • “We Know the Way”
  • “How Far I’ll Go (Reprise)”
  • “You’re Welcome”
  • “Shiny”
  • “Logo Te Pate”
  • “I Am Moana (Song of the Ancestors)”
  • “Know Who You Are”
  • “We Know the Way (Finale)”

Voice Cast: The majority of the film’s cast members are of Polynesian descent: Cravalho and Scherzinger were born in Hawaii and are of Native Hawaiian heritage; Johnson and Polamalu are of Samoan heritage; and New Zealand–born House, Morrison, and Clement are of Māori heritage.

Auliʻi Cravalho as Moana. 2 After the filmmakers sat through auditions of hundreds of candidates from across the Pacific, 14-year-old high school freshman Auliʻi Cravalho was cast. In 2018, Cravalho made her television debut starring as Lilette Suarez in the NBC drama series Rise. 3 Dwayne Johnson as Maui. He rose to fame in the WWF/E under the stage name “The Rock.” His popularity allowed him to crossover into film and television. He appeared in The Mummy Returns, The Scorpion King, The Rundown, Walking Tall, Be Cool, Doom, Roles in Gridiron Gang, Reno 911!: Miami, Southland Tales, Get Smart, The Game Plan, G.I. Joe: Retaliation, Pain & Gain, Empire State, The Hero, Ballers, Baywatch, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, Rampage, Skyscraper and the Fast and the Furious series.

Rachel House as Tala. 4 Her film work has included roles in Whale Rider, Eagle vs Shark, Boy, and White Lies. In 2017, she played Grandmaster’s bodyguard Topaz in Thor: Ragnarok. Temuera Morrison as Tui. 5 He first gained recognition for his role as Dr. Hone Ropata on the New Zealand soap opera Shortland Street. He gained critical acclaim after starring as Jake “The Muss” Heke in the 1994 film Once Were Warriors and its 1999 sequel What Becomes of the Broken Hearted?He became known internationally after portraying Jango Fett in Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones and Commander Cody in Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith (2005). In addition, he appeared in Green Lantern, Spartacus: Gods of the Arena, and most recently, Aquaman 6

Jemaine Clement as Tamatoa. 7 He is best known as half of the comedy duo Flight of the Conchords. He has had featured parts in films such as Gentlemen Broncos, Rio, and Men in Black 3. In 2014, he made his feature film directorial debut with the horror comedy mockumentary What We Do in the Shadows, which he wrote, starred in and directed with Taika Waititi. He currently portrays Oliver Bird on the FX series Legion. Nicole Scherzinger as Sina.8 She was part of the short-lived girl group Eden’s Crush, and rose to fame as the lead singer of the Pussycat Dolls. She starred on the West End revival of the musical Cats for which she received a Laurence Olivier Award nomination for Best Actress in a Supporting Role.

Retired football player Troy Polamalu and Puanani Cravalho (Auli’i’s mother) played villagers

Where in the World is Alan Tudyk? Alan plays Heihei, the chicken

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Critical Reception: Joe Morgenstern of The Wall Street Journal proclaimed that “Moana is beautiful in more ways than I can tell, thanks to the brilliance of more animators than I could count.” Christy Lemire of RogerEbert.com gave the film three-and-a-half out of four stars, stating that “‘Moana’ would have been enormously entertaining regardless of when it came out, but its arrival at this particular moment in history gives it an added sense of significance—as well as inspiration.”

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However, the film drew some negative criticism as well. Disney has been accused of appropriating Polynesian mythology and culture. A Maui “skin suit” costume made to tie in with the film was pulled by Disney from its online store following complaints about it being culturally insensitive and for appearing to promote brownface.

The film is seen as taking specific cultural elements from a variety of native Pacific groups, incorporating them into one generalized portrayal of Polynesian culture. The film has also been criticized as a tourism advertisement for the Pacific. Brigham Young University–Hawaii sociocultural anthropologist Tēvita ‘Ō. Ka’ili stated that “despite its important girl-power message, the film had a major flaw. It lacked symmetry by its omission of a heroic goddess.”

Legacy: There are currently meet-and-greets with Moana at Disneyland, Walt Disney World, Disneyland Paris, and at Aulani, a Disney Resort and Spa. At Hong Kong Disneyland, a stage show called Moana’s Village Festival opened in 2018. Cravalho reprised her role as Moana in Wreck-it Ralph 2: Ralph Breaks the Internet

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My take: This is one of my favorites. Johnson as Maui is perfect casting and “You’re Welcome” is the highlight of the show, with Cravalho possessing great comic and dramatic chops for someone so young. The music was great, I own the soundtrack.

Next Week: One last trip to Radiator Springs