A different Disney princess
> Directors Ron Clements and John Musker share how they created an original story and character rooted in Polynesian mythology for their first full-CGI animated film, Moana
DISNEY’S 56th animated studio film celebrates a princess who is different from the rest. Inspired by Polynesian mythology, the story revolves around a young princess called Moana who lives on Motunui Island with her family.
When her island is threatened with destruction, this brave 15-yearold sets sail across the sea in search of the demigod Maui to help her save her home and her people.
Giving voice to the characters are newcomer Auli’i Cravalho as Moana, Dwayne Johnson as demigod Maui, Temuera Morrison as Chief Tui (Moana’s overprotective father and chief of Motunui Island) and Nicole Scherzinger as Moana’s mother Sina.
Jemaine Clement is the voice of Tamatoa, a villainous 50-foot crab from Lalotai, the realm of monsters, while Alan Tudyk is Hei Hei, Maui and Moana’s pet rooster.
The film is directed by top Disney animation duo John Musker and Ron Clements, who previously gave us The Little Mermaid (1989), Aladdin (1992) and The Princess and the Frog (2009).
During a recent phone interview with Clements and Musker, they explained how they worked together to create Disney magic with Moana.
So how do two directors work together on one film?
“We kind of trade a little bit,” said Musker. “When we started writing scripts, we would divide the labour. Ron [Clements] was very good with structure of the movie and the script.
“I will improvise on paper and look at different options and maybe rewrite the script like six different times. Then Ron will look at it and if he doesn’t like something, he will rewrite it.
“We will go back and forth that way. We sometimes trade off on different things depending on who is most passionate about the subject.”
Clements added: “We don’t actually disagree on big things, it is usually on smaller things.”
Musker said that it is like a dance. “It is like any marriage. You sometimes back off, and on certain things, you alternate.”
Moana will be the duo’s first fully-CGI animated film. “We worked with CGI a little bit in pretty much all our films, even going back to The Great Mouse Detective (in 1986) and even in The Little Mermaid and Treasure Planet (2002),” said Clements.
“In [ Moana], it is pretty much
all digital with a little bit of handdrawn animation.
“This is really new for us and we had to go to school to learn about this new production. It is quite a bit different than a hand-drawn film.”
Musker added: “The staff is relatively young in their 20s and 30s. It was exciting for us to work with this young talent in the CGI world.”
Clements said it is only late in production that you see everything come together as before that, they were building the sets and creating the characters.
Previously, the movies they’d worked on were based on wellloved stories that were known internationally.
Moana, on the other hand, is an original story rooted in Polynesian mythology.
Clements said they had read up on Polynesian mythology – something they were not familiar with – prior to this project, adding that Musker started digging into Polynesian mythology before he did.
“He [Musker] then started on the character of Maui and the myths surrounding the character and shared that with me.”
Casting the right voice actors is, of course, very important.
Musker said: “Certainly, for the character of Moana, we wanted to cast someone unknown, from that region of the world, and we also needed someone who can sing and act.
“We went through hundreds of people before we finally found her. Auli’i [Cravalho] was there on the last day of the audition and she was the last person we auditioned.”
Musker explained that casting a voice actor can be a tricky process as the writers build on the character and his/her expressions based on the voice alone.
Clements added: “With Dwayne [Johnson], we thought about him early on for Maui – him being like a demigod himself, it wasn’t a stretch.
“We played some of his tracks and listened to his singing which he did sometimes during his wrestling days and sometimes in movie.”
Clements said Johnson’s voice also fits the character. “He wanted to do it because it is connected to his Polynesian roots.”
The directors also felt honoured to work with Broadway star LinManuel Miranda (of Hamilton fame) who brought his own approach to the theme song which, Musker said, celebrates the music of the Polynesian world.
On the question of whether audiences will be able to embrace Moana as a Disney princess, Musker is confident they will.
“She is almost like an actionadventure hero. This movie shows her coming of age. She is 15 years old and facing a huge obstacle. She is very tenacious and fearless.”
Clements added that unlike previous movies about Disney’s princesses, they did away with the romantic element and concentrated on the heroine and her adventures instead.
He summed up Moana as a role model with an appealing personality.
Moana will be released in cinemas here on Dec 1.
Making movie magic … (right, from left) Clements and Musker have created a brand-new princess for Disney in Moana (bottom, left), voiced by newcomer Cravalho (left).