The day after I had the pleasure of seeing a screening of “Moana” I was able to sit down for the press conference at the beautiful Santa Monica Fairmont Miramar hotel. Close to the water, it was an appropriate setting for a story like “Moana”, I mean if they wanted to have it at the Aulani resort in Hawaii I think I’d go to that too ☺ .
The panel was Ron Clemens and John Musker (Writers and Directors), Lin-Manuel Miranda (Composer), Dwayne Johnson (Maui), Auli’i Cravalho (Moana), Opetaia Foa’i (Composer), and Osnat Shurer (Producer).
Ron Clemens and John Musker discussed the joy of the research for the project. Five years was when it all started, trips to Samoa, Fiji, Tahiti and the Pacifica Music Festival (where Lin-Manuel won the dance competition), tough research! They both spoke about how music was the driving force behind the project and wanted to do the history and the culture justice.
Their other oceanic film “The Little Mermaid” was brought up and how different that process was from this one; “Moana” was their first digital film. They had decided early on that the water would be a character and digitally making that happen was more tricky than they imagined.
Lin-Manuel Miranda is on fire! With the success of ‘Hamilton’ and now “Moana” (not to mention “Mary Poppins Returns” in the wings) it was nice to see him join the panel. Ron and John approached Miranda before his Hamilton fame. They gave him the call because of ‘In The Heights’. He talked about while developing the music for “Moana” he had a nightly skype call with Ron and John – most times in his Hamilton costume eating Chinese food, minutes before he had to hit the boards.
One fun thing that was revealed, that might not be a surprise to fans, Miranda is a big into Disney. When he started the project he quoted his favorite Disney film back to the producers, a film they know quite well – “The Little Mermaid”
Dwayne Johnson, just mere days before he was named ‘Sexiest Man Alive’ by People magazine, seemed a little shy in his seat. One of the very first questions to producers was ‘How did you get The Rock to sing? And so well!!’ Apparently, the first thing Dwayne said to Lin-Manuel was ‘So, what am I going to sing?’ He was ready and very much willing! Several times Johnson mentioned how this was his favorite movie experience to date.
Johnson talked about how joyful it was to watch the first few people who had seen the film leave the theater. He said it looked like they were floating.
Auli’i Cravalho is all of 15, which surprised most everyone in the room. So poised and mature even her nudging and playfulness with Johnson seemed graceful. She is very proud of her Polynesian heritage, and even spoke about how put off she was when she heard Disney was doing a Polynesian animated film – until she was cast. Now she can say in honestly, Disney stayed true to the culture.
The one thing she hopes viewers take away from “Moana” is for more research and discovering more of her culture and history.
Opetaia Foa’i was brought onto the project by producer Osnat Shurer. In the early days of development, Osnat was researching music and continually went back to the band Te Vaka – Opetaia’s band. She had to bring him one board! He spoke about being born in a hut with a thatched roof and to now be there in that room, doing what he loves is a dream come true.
He mentioned how happy he is with the research and honor to the Polynesian culture that Disney instilled in the film. And hopes people watching the film can take that away with them.
Osnat Shurer, in the last seat on the panel and a producer on “Moana”. She talked about the research and the people they met along the way. “Our Oceanic Story Trust” is what they called it. A collection of people with knowledge about the culture: master tattoo artists, weavers, anthropologists and archeologists, people they could continually check in with during the making of this fictional story, so it would be authentic and honor the people.
Osnat watched the premiere with people from the Pacific Island communities. After her screening she asked the audience if they had any questions, and someone raised their hand and said, they just wanted to talk about to Mana in the room. It was very moving.
It was a wonderful experience to learn about all the love and soul that went into making “Moana”. To find out the inspiration of this sweet film was not just “Whale Rider” but also “True Grit” and “Fury Road”. After I thought about it, it makes so much sense! Please take the time to go see “Moana” when it opens on the 23rd. You won’t regret it!!