Moana, a sweeping, CG-animated feature film from Walt Disney Animation Studios

“Who am I? I am a girl who loves my island. And the girl who loves the sea. It calls me.”

From Walt Disney Animation Studios comes Moana, a sweeping, CG-animated feature film about an adventurous teenager who sails out on a daring mission to save her people.

“Moana is the 16-year-old daughter of the chief of Motunui,” says director Ron Clements. “She’s brave, determined, compassionate and incredibly smart. She has a never-say-die attitude and a profound connection to the ocean.”

“So it’s troubling to her, to say the least, that her people don’t go beyond the reef surrounding their island,” adds director John Musker. “They stay within the confines of that reef, and Moana doesn’t really understand why, especially since she’s felt drawn to the ocean her whole life.”


Inexplicably drawn to the ocean, Moana (voice of Auliʻi Cravalho) convinces the mighty demigod Maui (voice of Dwayne Johnson) to join her mission, and he reluctantly helps her become a wayfinder like her ancestors who sailed before her. Together, they voyage across the open ocean on an action-packed adventure, encountering enormous monsters and impossible odds, and along the way, Moana fulfills her quest and discovers the one thing she’s always sought: her own identity.

Moana was directed by the renowned filmmaking team of Ron Clements and John Musker (The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, The Princess & the Frog), from a screenplay by Jared Bush, who was responsible for helping to develop and shape character personalities and overall story for Moana.


Ron Clements is a renowned storyteller and filmmakers at Walt Disney Animation Studios. With his long me collaborator John Musker, Clements has written and directed iconic feature films that have become part of Disney’s legacy, including beloved classics like The Little Mermaid in 1989 and Aladdin in 1992, as well as Disney’s 2009 return to hand-drawn Animation, The Princess and the Frog. Clements teams up with Musker again, this time venturing to ancient Oceania for an epic adventure about an aspiring wayfinder. Born and raised in Sioux City, Iowa, Clements traces his interest in Animation to his first viewing of “Pinocchio” at age 9. As a teenager, he began making Super-8 animated films, including “Shades of Sherlock Holmes,” a 15-minute feature he animated single-handedly. “Shades” won critical acclaim and led to a part-time job as an artist at a television station, where he animated commercials for the local market. After graduating from high school, Clements came to California to try his luck at Animation. Because there were no openings at Disney, he worked for several months at Hanna-Barbera while studying life drawing in the evening at Art Center. With persistence and determination, Clements was finally accepted into Disney’s Talent Development Program, a training ground for young animators, followed by a two-year apprenticeship under Disney legend Frank Thomas. He quickly progressed through the ranks from in-betweener to assistant to animator storyman. His credits include Winnie the Pooh and Tigger Too, The Rescuers, Pete’s Dragon, The Fox and the Hound and The Black Cauldron. Clements made his writing-directing debut with Musker on the 1986 feature The Great Mouse Detective.” Their credits also include 1997’s epic comedy Hercules and the intergalactic adventure Treasure Planet in 2002.

The story is inspired in part by oral histories of the people and cultures of Oceania, where filmmakers traveled to learn as much as possible. For centuries, the greatest navigators in the world masterfully navigated the vast Pacific , discovering the many islands of Oceania. But then, around 3,000 years ago, their voyages stopped for a millennium – and though there are theories, no one knows exactly why. “Navigation on—wayfinding—is such a big part of Pacific culture,” says Musker. “Ancient Polynesians found their way across the seas, wayfinding island-to-island without the use of modern instruments, using their knowledge of nature, the stars, the waves and the currents.”

Adds Clements, “We heard many T mes from the people we met during our trips to the Pacific Islands that the ocean doesn’t separate the islands, it connects them. Voyaging is a real source of pride for Pacific Islanders, a part of their identity. They were, and continue to be, some of the greatest explorers of all time. This wayfinding sense is not only quite sophisticated, it is miraculous.”

“Many of the people Ron and John met explained that this belief stems from the deep pride Pacific Islanders have in their ancestors, who were the greatest navigators—wayfinders—that the earth has ever seen,” says executive producer John Lasseter. “That pride in their cultural traditions,that sense of connectedness to the ocean, and by the ocean, became central to the story. It’s why the story’s protagonist, and the film itself, is named ‘Moana’—the word for ‘ocean’ in many Polynesian languages.”

There are many theories, but no one is certain about what may have led to the 1,000-year gap in exploration before it resumed 2,000 years ago, leading to the discoveries of Tahi , Hawai‘i and Aotearoa (New Zealand). This rebirth—and the possible explanations behind it—sparked the filmmakers’ imaginations. Says Musker, “In our story, our heroine, Moana, is at the heart of the rebirth of wayfinding.”


Telling The Tale


John Musker is a renowned storyteller and filmmakers at Walt Disney Animation Studios. With his longtime collaborator Ron Clements, Musker has written and directed iconic feature films that have become part of Disney’s legacy, including beloved classics like The Little Mermaid in 1989 and Aladdin in 1992, as well as Disney’s 2009 return to hand-drawn Animation, The Princess and the Frog. Born in Chicago, Ill., Musker knew by age 8 that he wanted to become an animator. Inspired by such Disney classics as Sleeping Beauty and Pinocchio, as well as Bob Thomas’ primer The Art of Animation, Musker developed a thorough understanding of the Animation process. His fascination with comics, cartoons and MAD magazine further stimulated his desire to draw. At Loyola Academy, Musker became a cartoonist for the school paper. His special brand of caricature included outrageous sketches of teachers and school celebrities. Musker continued to develop his caricature and cartooning skills throughout his college years at Northwestern University, where he majored in English and drew cartoons for The Daily Northwestern. Following graduation from college in 1974, Musker set out for California to pursue a career as an animator.

Pacific Island storytelling culture is celebrated as the film opens. Gramma Tala, the mother of Chief Tui and Moana’s greatest confidante, shares the tale of Te Fi , the mother island. “Her heart held the greatest power ever known: it could create life itself,” she says. “And Te Fi  shared it with the world.”

Gramma Tala’s story culminates with details of Maui, demigod of the wind and sea, who steals the heart of Te Fi , unleashing a terrible darkness that threatens the life and habitat of islanders throughout the region. Maui is confronted by Te Kā, a demon of earth and fire, and ultimately loses the heart of Te Fi  to the sea.

The film introduces a very special presence in Moana’s life: the Ocean—a living embodiment of the sea who’s chosen Moana to find Maui and return the heart of Te Fi , saving her island and her people from the darkness that has begun to take over. The only problem is that Chief Tui, Moana’s father, forbids voyaging beyond the safety of the reef that lies just beyond their shores. Tui has seen too many voyage past the reef—and never return—and out of love for his people, has forbade it. Moana must go against her father’s wishes to pursue her destiny set forth by the Ocean.

The mighty demigod Maui, a charisma c character in the film, was inspired by the varied tales and legends about him throughout the Pacific. Says Musker, “We were fascinated by the stories we read, the tales told to us by people of the region. In most islands, Maui is larger-than-life, a trickster and a shapeshifter. He could pull up whole islands from the sea with his fishhook; he had the power to slow down the sun. He is an incredible figure.”

Maui, who’s on his own journey of self-discovery, reluctantly guides Moana in her quest to become a wayfinder and save her people. Together, they sail across the open ocean on an ac on-packed voyage, encountering enormous monsters and impossible odds, and, along the way, Moana discovers the one thing she’s always sought: her own identity.

“It’s a story that takes place many, many years ago, but with a contemporary feel,” says producer Osnat Shurer. “Our hope as filmmakers has been to create a universal story that is also an homage to the beautiful people of the Pacific Islands who inspired us along this journey.”

Research – Filmmakers Find Themselves in Oceania


Screenwriter Jared Bush is responsible for helping to develop and shape character personalies and overall story for “Moana.” Bush is also co-creator, executive producer and writer for Disney XD’s animated comedy adventure series “Penn Zero: Part-Time Hero.” He also helped develop the Oscar®-winning features Big Hero 6 and Frozen, and served as a screenwriter and co-director for this year’s hit feature Zootopia. He began his career as a script reader for Academy Award®-winning director Robert Zemeckis. A Harvard University graduate with a degree in English and American literature, Bush is an avid traveller who has visited forty countries on six continents and an accomplished trombone player who has played with several jazz bands over the years.

When first thinking of seeing an animated feature in the beautiful Pacific Islands, directors Ron Clements and John Musker recalled from their youth beloved novels and paintings about the Pacific. But once they began exploring the incredible tales within Polynesian mythology a few years ago, the filmmakers realized they needed to dive much, much deeper. They knew they needed to go to the islands of the Pacific to see the places and meet the people in person.

Among the many people they met, one meeting stood out, recalls Clements. “An elder on the island of Mo‘orea asked of us something so simple and so revealing: ‘For years, we have been swallowed by your culture,’ he said. ‘This one  me, can you be swallowed by ours?’”

The Pacific Ocean is home to thousands of islands and island nations, known to generations as Polynesia, Micronesia and Melanesia. But, as the filmmakers learned, many Pacific Islanders consider the en region not in sec tions, but as the whole of Oceania. Further, while the islands themselves range in size, inhabitants of these islands consider the ocean between them very much a part of their world—a world many  mes bigger than the United States. Filmmakers were deeply inspired by the people who live there, the cultures they celebrate, and the history and traditions passed down from genera on to genera on.

So Clements and Musker, along with a group of artists from Walt Disney Animation Studios, traveled to the southern region of Oceania. Their mission was to experience the islands not as tourists, but as observers, researchers and students—to listen. “We came away from these trips not only with ideas, images and inspirations for our story, but with an even stronger resolve that we wanted to make something that the people we met would embrace,” says Musker. “We aren’t making a documentary, of course; it’s an animated feature and a work of fiction. But our experiences infused our imaginations in a way we hadn’t anticipated.”


Clements, Musker and several members of the production team ventured first to Fiji, Samoa and Tahiti . “We wanted to, as much as possible, avoid the ‘touristy’ things, to go deeper,” says Clements. “We wanted to meet people who grew up on islands; we wanted to listen and learn what makes these Pacific Island cultures so remarkable.”

The filmmakers spent  me within local communities, meeting and sharing stories and meals with elders and chiefs and their families, as well as teachers, craftspeople, farmers, fishermen and navigators. They consulted with experts in archaeology, anthropology, history, culture, music, dance, carving and more.

Deeply inspired by their  time in the Pacific Islands, filmmakers assembled a group of advisors the filmmakers named the Oceanic Story Trust (OST). The Trust includes anthropologists, educators, linguists, expert tattooists, choreographers, haka specialists, master navigators and cultural advisors who collaborated with Disney’s creative team. “The Trust has deeply influenced the look and feel of this film,” says Shurer. “The film would not be what it is today without their guidance.”

Filmmakers hired Native Hawaiian Kalikolehua Hurley to help navigate the effort. “The collaboration among our Oceanic Story Trust consultants and every department in production has been, to me, truly history-making,” says Hurley. “Our crew would o en tell me how special this project has been to them, both in that they learned about a new area of the world and that they were able to connect directly with people of the Pacific—our Trust, actors and greater communities—creating a deeper sense of responsibility and drive to ensure that our story truly celebrates our Pacific Island cultures.”

moana-clip-20161024Consisting of a dozen members, the OST worked fluidly throughout the course of production. “We met in person, here in Samoa, and also in Los Angeles,” says Dionne Fono , a visual anthropologist at the National University of Samoa and a member of the OST. “There were calls and emails between me, the writers, directors and producer. Then they’d go off  and work for a while and bounce ideas off  me.”

According to Dr. Paul Geraghty, associate professor in linguistics at the University of the South Pacific in Fiji, the OST helped filmmakers find the right balance between the many cultures of Polynesia as well as the fictional nature of the story. “The filmmakers wanted to be non-specific, which makes sense since 2,000 years ago, when the film is set, what now is specific to Samoan or Fijian or Hawaiian society didn’t exist yet, so we looked for a Proto Polynesian characterization as much as possible.”

“I think Ron and John sincerely want to capture the strength and beauty of Pacific Island cultures,” says Fono . “I think they want the story to reflect what they felt when they were here. The experience truly resonated with them, and they’re storytellers—they want to share it. They want the audience to feel it, too.”