By Guest Writer Crystal Greenwood of Alternative Mindz
With continuing their ever growing standard in creating timeless children’s classics, Disney’s Moana was born with this purpose in mind to bring yet another classic to adoring fans. Considering this fact, the artistic and musical vision have to be very authentic and true to the island culture that Disney wants to convey to the audience of people who grew up with prior films and hooking the newer generations of children for years to come.
It was a pleasure to attend the Behind the Animation of Disney’s Moana, presented by Disney’s creative executive, Jessica Julius.
With expressing endearing thoughts about the 5-year journey into bringing this film together, Julius compiled amazing processes of some of the characters, casting, and animation, giving a very candid look into the inner workings that the average movie goer might take for granted.
Julius spoke about when she coordinated trips to the Polynesian islands with directors Ron Clements, John Musker and Don Hall to sketch out the basis for Moana. There had been certain ideas sketched out before they ventured out, but were completely changed once they were able to cohabit on these gorgeous islands. Ideas fleshed out more when they relied heavily on the citizens the directors called the “Oceanic Story Trust,” which included people such as tattoo artists, musicians and a plethora of townsfolk. Researching how the Polynesians were nomads thousands of years ago and then mysteriously stopping for a thousand years, set the tone they needed for Moana.
When showing the animation, Julius expressed that by no means were these completed graphics, but were presentable enough. I was completely fooled because the textures looked so polished, even down to the skin and the water itself. There was even an artist that was able to hand draw 2D animation on the demigod Maui for animating his many tattoos on 3D textures. A particularly compelling scene comes to mind, which captured the heart and beauty of what Moana would become in the future. She must’ve been at least 18 months old playing by the sea when the sea literally calls out her. While parting the way for Moana, the sea embodied true human characteristics, displaying affection, endearment, and even playfulness with toddler Moana. Just by watching this small clip, a viewer would be able to see just how much extensive research paid off, all the while making a scene that made it so hard to have a dry eye in the house.
When Clements, Musker and Hall were casting for Moana, the concern was finding an authentic actress who could be strong, act and sing all at the same time. Especially because Dwayne Johnson would have a huge presence bringing Maui to life, this actress needed to hold her own. With the talent search, they finally hit gold with up and coming actress, Auli’i Cravalho, who hails from Hawaii. Even though Cravalho is just 15 years old, the casting agents saw a certain matureness and sweetness that would carry this new Disney princess a long way.
Julius pointed out that facets of the actors tend to come through in the CG characters they portray because the sessions are filmed so the animators can pinpoint certain expressions and nuances in the dialogue given. So, just like Cravalho herself, the animators even gave Moana’s hair a similar embodiment. Even down to the dimples on Dwayne Johnson for Maui, the animators made it so much easier to connect with these characters with bringing out the natural expressions, creating a more solidity to their personalities.
Nothing can set the mood better than perfect musical pieces. In order to have the music fit precisely, the musicians and composers must know the story as it flows to create just the right feeling for the audience. In the search for bringing out the soul of Moana, Ron Clements, John Musker and Don Hall chose Opetaia Foa’i, Mark Mancina, and Lin-Manuel Miranda. All of their styles brought about an intricate meld of traditional island music with the modern. All the while, these composers were collaborating from different parts of the world daily to create music to make the audience swell with happiness or even fill with tears of joy when we needed to.
Behind the Animation of Disney’s Moana made me have huge anticipations for going to the theater with my 5-year-old. I truly cannot wait to see this story about this Disney princess coming of age to search for her true meaning in life and to bring hope to her people. Moana seems like the perfect recipe for another classic brew, solid story complete with visually stunning effects and enriching music to match.
Disney’s Moana is in theaters now.
Disney’s Moana: Behind the Animation