The inhabitants of Motunui are governed by a single rule: don’t ever go beyond the reef. Only Moana, the daughter of the chief of the tribe, dares to disobey the rule. She wants to break the curse and recover the seafaring spirit of her people. With the help of the demi-god, Maui, she embarks on an adventure that will let her discover her story and that of her ancestors.
The premise of the new Disney film is based on real facts. When the directors travelled around the Pacific, they discovered that the inhabitants of the islands stopped exploring the ocean for many years. Some historians talk about a period of 1,000 years, but the reasons for this remain unknown. With this idea in their heads, the directors invented a theory that could explain how the Polynesians returned to the sea, telling the story as a fable. ‘Moana’ was born, destined to become the ‘Frozen’ of 2017.
The new ‘Let it go’
After taking such care with the setting, the soundtrack had to live up to the same standards; as a result, the Disney team dedicated one of their trips to searching for musical inspiration and they made sure it coincided with the Pacifica Music Festival. They also had the experience of the singer, Opetaia Tavita Foa‘i, born in Samoa, and his group Te Vaka.
To ensure the film would respect the people and heritage of the South Pacific, the ‘Oceanic Story Trust’ was created. This group was made up of historians, archaeologists, linguists, fishermen and other professionals such as Polynesian dancers, tattooists and weavers, and it offered the team continuous advice. Thanks to these people, the team learnt that in the culture of the islands, the oceans do not separate the islands, it joins them.
The Pacific became another character in the film, Moana’s best friend, an ally in the most dangerous situations, and it provided the animators with the opportunity to excel. Eighty per cent of the scenes have special effects, of which over half are water effects.
Nearly 1,000 people, made up of artists, musicians and technical staff, have participated in the new Disney film. Many travelled to the South Pacific in search of inspiration. In four trips they visited Fiji, Samoa, Tahiti, Mo’orea, Bora Bora and many other islands in Polynesia and Melanesia. Motunui, the fictional island where Moana lives, is a mixture of all of them and their cultures.
Polynesian tattoos are much more than a trend: they tell the story of the wearer’s family, their social status or their spiritual beliefs. In the case of Maui, the tattoos represent his past feats and on occasions they come to life. Like Mini Maui, a sort of Jiminy Cricket drawn in ink, who helps and advises the demi-god.
The main difficulty resided in the film’s location: the action took place in the South Pacific, 2,000 years ago, which is why there are no photographs that can be used as a reference. The work carried out by ‘Oceanic Story Trust’ was of extreme importance. They supervised Moana and her tribe’s costumes, tattoos, dances and customs. As regards the settings, a great number of the pristine Polynesian landscapes from two centuries ago were found in Teti’aroa. The only atoll of the Windward Islands, lying 60km from Tahiti, this is one of the most uninhabited places in the region and is still perhaps best known for having been purchased by Marlon Brando. What used to be a shelter for the Tahitian royal family is now a luxury ‘eco-resort’ with 35 villas, The Brando. Its white sand beaches have hardly changed over the years, just as they appear in ‘Moana’.
The new Disney star is not alone on her journey. Maui, a giant covered in tattoos, accompanies her on her adventure around the South Pacific. Like the rest of the film, his appearance and the way he acts are a blend of the different views the Polynesians have of the demi-god. ‘You’ve got it just right,’ Dwayne Johnson (The Rock) told the animators just before they had finished creating his character, to which he gives his voice in the original version of the film. The actor has Samoan ancestors and he revealed that Maui reminds him of his grandfather, who was also a professional wrestler.
Pua, the little pig, Heihei, the rooster and the oceanic and exotic version of the Minions, the menacing Kakamora, complete the cast of ‘Moana’ and are likely to replace Olaf and company in the hearts of children around the world. The time has arrived to change Elsa’s ice kingdom for a paradise island in the middle of the Pacific.