Directors Ron Clements and John Musker talk casting Dwayne Johnson in Disney’s adventure epic Moana…
It’s said that the Hawaiian demi-god Maui was a huge man – one capable of throwing a fish hook up to the sun, or raising entire islands out of the ocean. So when it came to casting him in Disney’s new animated film Moana, there was only one man for the job: the artist formerly known as The Rock, Dwayne Johnson. “He’s a bigger-than-life character just like Maui,” laughs co-director Ron Clements, “and they both have cool tattoos. He also has roots deep in the South Pacific. His mother came to a recording session and was crying when she heard one of our songs, which was a celebration of South Pacific culture. Dwayne sings a song too. He did great with it.” Maui takes the role of mentor in Moana, aiding the title character – voiced by newcomer Auli’i Cravalho – in her quest across the ocean to find a fabled island. Clements, who co-directs alongside John Musker, describes its combination of humour, heart and music as similar to The Lion King. “But it’s not a romance,” he says. “Moana and Maui have more of a True Grit type of relationship.” Clements and Musker, who have directed Disney classics such as Aladdin, pitched an early version of the idea in 2011 to John Lasseter, who “forced” them to visit the South Pacific for research. “It made a huge difference,” says Musker. “We went to Tahiti and places like that and we took a lot away from Polynesian mythology – that many people consider the Pacific ocean almost alive, that it had feelings, it had emotions. Wouldn’t it be great to realise that in animation?”
Indeed. But a challenge for Clements and Musker was that this was their first time dealing with CGI animation, as opposed to hand-drawn. “We’ve got 2D elements too,” says Clements. “Maui has tattoos that move and one particular one is a miniature version of himself that appears on his body and becomes his alter ego. Eric Goldberg, who animated the genie on Aladdin, helped us animate him. But [with CGI], we were able to bring the ocean to life in a way which would be impossible to do otherwise. It’s been a new experience. We kind of had to go back to school and learn this whole new process. It was really cool, though. This movie has a huge scope – more than I think we’ve ever done.”
Moana opens in cinemas on 2 December.
Johnson plays Maui alongside Auli’i Cravalho as teen navigator Moana.