“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.”
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.
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
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
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.”
Consisting 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.”