Moana is a movie I have been excited about since I first learned of it at the beginning of the year. Not only does it have a great cast of Auli’I Cravalho and Dwayne “Rock” Johnson but a great story to go along with it. While I was in LA last month, I got to learn the story behind the movie and what it meant from the Head of Animation- Amy Smeed, Head of Story- Dave Pimentel, Story Artist- Dave Derrick, “Mini Maui” Animation Supervisor -Eric Goldberg and Development Sr. Creative Exec -Jessica Julius.

When you think of Moana and the setting you may think of Hawaii which is what I first thought but it’s not about Hawaii. It is actually about the Polynesian voyagers from the Pacific Islands and the cultures of the Oceania. You see, Three thousand years ago, Polynesian voyagers, the greatest navigators in the world, voyaged across the vast Pacific, discovering thousands of islands. But then, according to scholars, for approximately a millennium, their voyages stopped – and no one knows exactly why. “Navigation is such a big part of Pacific culture,” says Musker. “The ancient Polynesians found their way across the seas without the use of modern instruments, using their knowledge of nature, the stars, the waves and the currents.”

The story takes place many years ago and Moana is determined and on a mission to save her people. During her journey, Moana and her pet pig Pua meet the mighty demigod Maui, a larger-than-life character who was inspired by multitudes of varied tales and legends about him throughout the Oceania region. She also comes across a rooster named HeiHei who first started out as intelligent rooster but the creative team realized that character would work better with a lower IQ. You will find this rooster throughout the film in several situations he should not be in and are hilarious. All together, they sail across the open ocean on an action-packed voyage, encountering enormous monsters and impossible odds, and along the way where Moana and Maui discover their true identities.

What I find fascinating is that the filmmakers wanted to go deeper and learn more about the culture so they traveled to the southern region of Oceania to meet with the people in person. This helped them get ideas for the film to make it close as possible to the cultures. It’s not a documentary but an animation of the story. While they were there exploring Fiji’s Sigatoka Sand Dunes National Park they meet with local archeologists, visited the Fiji museum, met with master tattoo artists, expert fisherman, and shared the local cuisine with the generous people they met. While this gave them an influenced look and feel of the film, it also helped bring the characters to life.

About the Characters

Moana – an adventurous, tenacious and compassionate 16-year-old who is struggling to find her true self. While her father, Chief Tui, pressures her to follow in his footsteps and lead their island one day, Moana is drawn to the sea. The people of her village are forbidden to go beyond the safety of the reef, yet the open ocean seems to beckon Moana.  “She descended from navigators, but she doesn’t know it.”

When her island is threatened by a terrible darkness, Moana breaks the rules and sets sail on an epic adventure to save her people and find the answers she’s been searching for her whole life. Says director John Musker, “She is inspired to solve the problem of this world that has been haunting them and has made voyaging impossible. If she can face this problem that’s plagued them for a thousand years, perhaps voyaging could resume.”

Maui –  a demigod—half god, half mortal, all awesome. Charismatic and funny, he wields a magical fishhook that allows him to shapeshift into all kinds of animals and pull up islands from the sea. Maui was once considered the greatest hero in Oceania; his body is covered with tattoos of his extraordinary feats, including a mini-version of himself that acts as Maui’s conscience. “Maui is responsible for the trouble that threatens Moana’s people,” says Musker. “He’s paying a price for his actions and is somewhat of a lost hero—a shadow of his former self. Moana needs him to right his
wrongs and restore what’s been lost.”

Embarking on an important journey of self-discovery alongside Moana, Maui brings his super strength—as well as his super-sized issues. “He has an all-encompassing drive to succeed that gets him into trouble,” says Clements. “But facing the reason behind it isn’t easy.”

Gramma Tala –  Moana’s confidante and best friend, shares her granddaughter’s special connection to the ocean. Although her son, Chief Tui, is a no-nonsense leader, Gramma Tala most definitely dances to the beat of her own drum. She feels in her soul that the ocean has big plans for Moana, but she won’t reveal the legendary secrets of their wayfinding ancestors till the time is right. “Gramma Tala is the keeper of the ancient stories,” says screenwriter Jared Bush. “She knows the history of their people and understands how important it is that Moana holds onto her dreams. But she never gives her the answers. She lets Moana find her way.”

Chief Tui – is Moana’s father and the gregarious and well-respected leader of the people of Motunui Island. He wants Moana to follow in his footsteps as leader of their people, but fears his daughter’s connection with the ocean and the world that lies beyond their reef. “Her dad tells her again and again she must not venture out into the dangerous sea,” says Bush. “He insists her role is as future chief of their people. He reminds her of this massive responsibility and how important it is for her to embrace it.” Though it may seem like they are worlds apart, Chief Tui and Moana have more in common than either of them realize.

Sina -Moana’s mother always has her back. Playful, sharp and strong-willed, Sina appreciates Moana’s longing to be on the water. But much like Tui, her hard-headed husband, Sina wants to protect her daughter from the fabled dangers beyond the reef. Above all, Sina trusts Moana to make the right decisions.

Heihei – is one dumb rooster—the village idiot, in fact. When the clueless chicken accidentally stows away on Moana’s canoe, he lands a front-row seat for her epic journey. But when Maui targets the feathered fowl as his next meal, kind-hearted Moana sticks her neck out to save Heihei.

Pua – is Moana’s loyal pet pig with puppy energy and an innocent puppy brain. He’s guileless and sweet—he’d do anything for Moana. Pua just wants her to be happy.

This incredible tale of the Pacific Islands are such an inspiration to us all and shows us all a way to explore our imaginations to where they have never been before. Whether these are your true roots or not it is an amazing story to learn more about and I highly recommend seeing it in theaters on November 23rd.

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