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).

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