At the D23 Expo on Friday, Walt Disney Animation Studios presented the South Pacific-set Moana, which follows the title navigator as she sets sail in search of a fabled island. During her journey she teams up with the legendary demi-god Maui to traverse the open ocean on a voyage where they will encounter enormous sea creatures, breathtaking underworlds, and ancient folklore.
Moana takes places 2,000 years before our time in the South Pacific. Our title hero shares a special bond with the ocean and it is that bond drives her to be a navigator, a once-proud family tradition that mysterious has gone unpracticed. She then sets out to be that wayfinder against her father’s wishes, and takes her animal friends — a pig named Pua and a cranky rooster named Hei Hei — along her journey. Then there’s the meet-up with the demi-god Maui. More on him later.
Long in her travels, Moana discovers the dangers of the deep, as well as a lively land spirit made up of molten black rock with lava flowing hair.
Dwayne Johnson has been confirmed to voice the demi-god Maui, but no voice talent has been attached to Moana, her island chief father, her dying grandmother, or the land spirit at this time.
The actor, who was in attendance at the panel at D23, described his character as strong and also very handsome, but because he is a demi-god, he finds himself stuck in the middle trying to please his parental deities as the humans he lives with. But one of the most interesting things about Maui is his tattoos, which have the ability to tell an animated story, and have a deeper meaning to it, much like Johnson’s own tattoos.
The directing team of John Muster and Ron Clements — best known for writing and directing Disney’s 1989 animated hit The Little Mermaid — then presented the audience with a clip from the film. In it, we see Moana as a baby on the shores of a beach. As she approaches the ocean, we see it come alive, almost parting to reveal seashells for our title character to pick up. We see a relationship develop between the two, as the ocean then cares for her as if she were its own. The ocean would then part to surround her and turn it into an aquarium-like room.
A proof of concept clip showed a very young, baby Moana meeting the ocean for the first time. As she’s walking on the beach, the water comes into the shore, and then divides to show seashells hidden on the ocean floor for her to collect. Moana walks deeper into the ocean, the water parting for her to move through safely, allowing a glimpse into the water and its inhabitants like in an aquarium. The clip really had an emotional impact, as the entire room was entranced by the music and the magic.
“Our research took us deep into the South Pacific,” said Clements. “The wonderful people we met there, their rich history and traditions, and their fantastic music changed us forever.”
“We can’t wait to bring those experiences to ‘Moana,’” added Musker. “We are incredibly lucky to be able to work with three amazing artists who are the absolute best at what they do. The sounds they create will be something we’ve never heard before—but it’ll feel like it’s been part of this world forever.”
Tony-winner Lin-Manuel Miranda (of Broadway’s Hamilton and In the Heights), Grammy-winner Mark Mancina (Tarzan, The Lion King), and Te Vaka founder and lead singer Opetaia Foa’i will conduct the score of the film. Foa’i and his band Te Vaka ended the presentation with a performance illustrating the magic of the film’s music.
“Moana” introduces a spirited teenager who sails out on a daring mission to fulfill her ancestors’ unfinished quest. She meets the once-mighty demi-god Maui (voice of Dwayne Johnson), and together, they traverse the open ocean on an action-packed voyage.
Moana will hit theaters on November 23, 2016.