When Moana opens in theaters on November 23rd, millions will be exposed to Oceanic culture through this beautifully crafted story from Walt Disney Animation Studios. Like all Disney films, the picture is filled with some incredible details that will largely go unnoticed. They will also be blissfully unaware of some of the creative challenges that went into production. You don’t have to be one of them with these nine amazing facts about Disney’s next classic animated feature.
It all started with a Maui…
Maui was the original inspiration for creating a story around Oceanic culture. Different islands have different variations of Maui, but the common theme is that he always has a fishhook. Another feature they were in agreement on is that he would have a full head of hair, which caused the Disney artists to have to redesign him since he was initially envisioned bald like voice actor Dwayne Johnson. The voice actor not only influenced the character’s personality, but even some of his physical characteristics. For example, the “People’s eyebrow.”
A film without Hei Hei?
Hei Hei was almost cut from the film. Directors Ron Musker and Jon Clements pleaded with the story team to find a way to save him. The character started as the chief’s watchdog pet, but was morphed into the stupidest chicken you’ve ever seen, which served the story in many ways. When the character was saved, the team celebrated with a chicken dinner… Speaking of Moana’s animal friends, Pua was originally along for her voyage, but the story worked better if she didn’t have a close friend to confide in along the way.
What is she wearing?
Plants and even materials from thousands of years ago were researched for inclusion in the film, which influenced the look of the islands and the cloths worn by the characters. The main material used to make clothes is called Tapa, made from mulberry and rice bark. The woven skirt material Moana wears is called Pandanus.
Story details in Moana’s necklace
Moana’s necklace features some important details if you examine it closely. The grey stone on top, blue stone on bottom represents land and sea. The stars carved at the top represent using the stars for navigation. And since this necklace was a gift from her Gramma Tala, the person who shared her family’s wayfinding past with her, it all makes perfect sense.
Moana’s expensive crown
Red parrot feathers were a form of currency to Pacific Island people, so when you see the chief wearing them on his headdress, it is a symbol of his wealthy status. They are also incorporated into Moana’s headdress for the brief scene where she wears it.
Pay attention to the clouds
Wayfinding navigators used the color of the clouds to navigate during the daytime. If they saw turquoise on the bottom of a cloud, it meant a reef was underneath and reefs are a good indicator of nearby islands. Pay close attention to the clouds in the film to look for turquoise underbellies.
Reimagining the Underworld
The Underworld is inspired by multiple Oceanic cultures view of the afterlife. The only recurring theme is that it’s underwater and features a beautiful garden. In the film, the artist’s used sea life that resembles plants to bring it to life, along with bioluminescent organisms as a source of light. For Ron and John, this is their second film the venture into the Underworld, after 1997’s Hercules.
All in the family
Story man Dave Derrick is of Pacific Island descent and felt strongly that Polynesian culture has been misrepresented in film. During a research trip, he visited his ancestor’s grave and kept a rubbing on his desk to keep him on task of bringing their stories to life. One of the siapo cloths in the film even bears his ancestral markings.
Ten years in the making?
Moana has been in production longer than most fans realize. Production Designer Ian Gooding was on the film over five years ago, then was reassigned to Wreck-It-Ralph before returning to a revised Moana project. It’s especially fitting that the next film from Walt Disney Animation will be 2018’s Wreck-It-Ralph 2.