Rock solid

Di­rec­tors Ron Cle­ments and John Musker talk cast­ing Dwayne John­son in Dis­ney’s ad­ven­ture epic Moana…

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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.

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