Disney Unveils More "Moana" Details
Disney has given fans a colorful, musical, and celebrity-fortified preview of its upcoming animated feature, "Moana." The film, due out next November, is steeped in Hawaiian mythology, telling the story of a young woman named Moana who sets off across the ocean and meets Maui, the demigod who is said to have raised the sky and fished the Hawaiian Islands out of the sea.
Like its corporate cousin Apple, Disney has had a long fascination with Hawaii. Most recently, the animated short "Lava" told the story of a volcano in search of love (featuring Hawaiian musicians Kuana Torres Kahele and Napua Greig). The studio's full-length feature in 2002 was "Lilo & Stitch," set on the island of Kauai. Of course, many of its television properties have featured trips to Hawaii, like "Phineas & Ferb's Hawaiian Vacation."
Hawaii even plays a part when the island vacation fails to materialize (as with "Toy Story"), or is the setting for a story that's not even filmed in Hawaii (like "Rip Girls"). And that's only some of the entries from this century... not including the $800 million Aulani Resort at Ko 'Olina.
But with Moana, Hawaii is more than an inspiration or a setting: Native Hawaiian and Polynesian culture serve as the source material for the story itself, which is set 2,000 years ago.
It's more than reasonable to be worried about how a giant Hollywood studio will depict a frequently caricatured and exploited indigenous community. (Things certainly didn't turn out well for Cameron Crowe's "Aloha" this summer.) But I was impressed with the research and gentle hand Disney exhibited with its alien-on-Kauai movie, and I have hopes that "Moana" will further convince the mainstream that Hawaii has more to offer than a two-dimensional postcard.
I'm sure Disney won't mind if Aulani bookings pick up after the film's release, as well.
"We're not only deeply inspired by the beautiful people, rich music, and engaging stories of the South Pacific," said Disney chief creative officer John Lasseter said on stage on Friday, "But we were also deeply changed by them."
The presentation was at the D23 Expo, a fan conference that's described as a Disney-only Comic Con. A pair of unfinished "Moana" clips were shown, as well as several animation cells and pieces of concept art. But the high point for many in attendance was the appearance of Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, who voices Maui in "Moana."
Johnson then introduced the band Te Vaka, which performed a musical number composed for the film by Te Vaka founder and lead singer Opetaia Foa'i, composer Mark Mancina ("The Lion King") and Tony Award-winner Lin-Manuel Miranda.
In addition to the title character and Maui, other characters include Moana's sidekick Pau, a pig, and a stowaway rooster named Hei-Hei. We also meet Moana's father Tui, a chief, and her grandmother. But the ocean itself is a character as well, and the last clip shown on Friday -- which featured Moana as a toddler interacting with the sea -- was especially well received.
"Moana" is is directed by Ron Clements and John Musker, who previously collaborated on "The Little Mermaid" and "Alladin." The film was originally slated for a 2018 release, but was bumped up two years.
The release for "Moana" is set for Thanksgiving weekend, Nov. 23, 2016. For more information, keep an eye the Walt Disney Animation Studios page (although there's not much there right now).