While recently in L.A. I had the pleasure of attending an exclusive Moana Blu-ray press event. It was an evening filled with Polynesian culture, entertainment, amazing food, and an intimate discussion with the filmmakers behind Disney’s hit movie Moana.
Walt Disney Animation Studios’ “Moana,” the sweeping story of a spirited teenager who sets sail on a daring adventure to save her people, starring newcomer Auli‘i Cravalho as the voice of brave and tenacious Moana and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson (HBO’s “Ballers,” “Central Intelligence”) as the larger-than-life demigod Maui, has dazzled both critics and audiences. The film earned a 95% critics’ consensus on Rotten Tomatoes and the No. 1 spot at the domestic box office opening weekend. Now, “Moana” sets a new course, arriving to homes on Digital HD/3D and Disney Movies Anywhere (DMA) and on Blu-ray 3D™, Blu-ray, DVD and On-Demand. You can read my thoughts on the Blu-ray, including bonus features here.
We spent a lot of the evening with Moana film makers – Directors Ron Clements & John Musker, Producer Osnat Shurer, Costume Designer Neysa Bove and “Mini Maui” 2D Animation Supervisor Eric Goldberg. They shared a lot of behind the scenes stories and info. Did you know that “Moana” means “ocean” in Hawaiian? I love that!
Welcomed by John Musker, and Ron Clements, they started by sharing with us how the whole Moana journey started over five years ago, while they were casting ideas to pitch John Lasseter (executive Producer). Never had been to this part of the Pacific, yet fascinated by it in books, prompted John to look into Polynesian mythology, which he has just discovered is a “wonderful source of storytelling”.
After several trips to the islands (Fiji and- and Samoa and- and- and Tahiti )
We really did dig deep into the culture. We met with so many incredible people and we learned so much from them from archaeologists, anthropologists, linguists, villagers, um, sailors, navigators and, uh, and it really was kind of a life changing trip. After we got back we kind of decided that the story we had before we left, um, we didn’t want to do that anymore. We kept Moana, we kept the character but Maui, but we kind of created a whole new story based on that research trip.
We were able to watch several of the Blu-ray bonus features, including “Voice of the Islands” which is probably my very favorite feature. It’s a beautifully put together piece on Polynesian culture, history and life on the islands. I highly recommend everyone to watch it.
We then went on to the Q&A portion of our evening.
Q: What is each one of your favorite deleted scene from the movie that we’re gonna get to see on the Blu-ray?
FS: There was a, a deleted scene called, “Warrior Face.” And it happens to also be a deleted song.
Osnat: A duet between Maui and, Moana, he’s sort of trying to teach her the kind of anti-theme. Like it’s all about the face you make, not how you feel inside. The demo that you’ll hear on the deleted scene on the DVD, we had the great joy of having the Hamilton cast do.
Ron: Yeah, the demos on this movie were incredible, ‘cause a lot of them were first done with the cast of Hamilton singing versions of the songs before they were, the real recording. So, that was something.
John: We also have a scene in there that was fun. The earlier version of the story, Moana had several brothers. She was like, “I’m the only girl in the family full of brothers.” In the first version of the story.
So, I think from that early, one of the early screenings we had this big canoe race, where she’s basically, racing all her brothers, and manages to finish sort of first. And, that was a fun scene. Then as the story evolved, the brothers went away, because we were trying to focus more on gender not being her problem so much, as just a, uh, she’s trying to find this voice within. Who is she? So, the brothers kind of went away. But, it’s a fun scene on its own right, and it’s got some fun action and things. And, we had so many things we considered. I’m not totally aware of everything that’s on the Blue-ray, ‘cause I haven’t seen the Blu-ray yet.
Osnat: We did do eight different versions of this movie.
Q: What was one thing that you saw from the culture that’s still living within that region that you wish that we over here sort of would embrace?
MS: There’s a bunch of things.
John: One, the idea of knowing your mountain is a cool thing, which basically has to do with looking to the past and to the future. That you, you’re the soul of everything.
Ron: One thing, there’s a big emphasis on connection, and interconnections. They’re again connecting to the people around you, the people that were before you, and the people who will come after you. And connecting to nature and, that sort of sense I think that people on an island have very strongly. This kind of, we’re all in this together attitude.
John: Yeah, obviously, we’re in, we’re in a culture now where there’s a lot of talk about, you know, walls and building this, and building that. And really the lesson we saw down there was an emphasis on the ocean doesn’t divide people, it connects people. And, a society or world where, you know, it emphasizes. And I think that’s what this film did really in a way that celebrates a culture, we’re trying to get a window to a culture that we don’t know about. And, I think that kind of connection and, feeling that we can learn things from another culture, I think it’s very valuable.
Osnat: I think also the respect for nature, the relationship with nature. We were on this island, this small island, and, we enjoyed a ceremony there, this great food that was prepared to us and for us in a very traditional manner. And nothing in that entire meal was, manufactured in some other country and shipped. Everything was local.
Then we came back from the island, we were with a bunch of young guys, you know, really young, hip, current guys, and we had too many things to fit in the little minivan to head to the airport. They went, “Oh, no problem.” Went to the coconut tree, pulled down some sinnet, made rope real fast on their jeans and tied the stuff onto the top of the minivan. That ability to work with nature, and to be self-sufficient, and to be in relationship, to always apologize to a tree before you take it down. To be in relationship with nature.
Q: Do you believe there are still stories to tell in a sequel to Moana?
Ron: I’m sure there’s stories to tell. The mythology is very rich and it’s something John and I talked about, a little bit, but that we were not familiar with. Somehow, we people in the western world, we’re pretty familiar with Greek mythology. I think people know that, and Norse mythology, and a lot of different ones. But, but Polynesian mythology seems like, it really isn’t well known. This is just a taste of some of the kind of fascinating stories. They’re lending themselves very well to animation.
Osnat: The way we work with sequels here at Disney Animation Studios is that, the filmmakers will, after a little rest, um, come back into development, and talk, and think about what they’d like to do next. If there’s a really compelling story from within a world that we’ve already explored, we’ll look at doing a sequel. It will rarely come from the outside. It’ll come from the inside out.
Q: What’s one of the highest compliments that you did receive? After they debuted it, was there any nugget that really just stuck out to you?
John: There were a lot of things. We actually got to go back to Samoa in December, after the movie had played there for a few weeks. And we went with Auli’i, and it was great because Auli’i had the voice, you know? She was like a movie star there. And everyone – “Moana, Moana.” They wanted a picture with her.
MS: There was a boy’s and girl’s club of Samoa or a social thing for kids. And we went by there just to say, “Hello.” And they sang the song back to her.
John: We just did one Saturday night at Laguna College of Art and Design, and a girl came up to me. She works at Disneyland, but she’s from Hawaii, she’s from Honolulu. She was crying, and she just, you know, it was–
MS: It, it was really meaningful and it really reflected her culture.
Osnat: For, for me there were many, many moments, but one that stands out is, I got to go back to Tahiti. We were announcing that we were translating the movie into Tahitian this is the first time ever the movies have been translated.
Q: How many versions of each costume do you have before you have to pitch it?
Neysa: Costuming or design, you have to create so many renditions because, you know, I think how I like to design, is present so many options and let these guys go shopping, I would say. Go in her closet, pick one.
MS: And you know guys, we hate shopping. John: We hate shopping, but we did, we did it.
Neysa: I mean, to give you an idea, just for the necklace, I think we went through 20-something different designs for one costume.
Osnat: The really cool thing is, as she would show a costume, or any, any prop she’s designed, there is all these references on the side. So,I saw this in the high fashion runway, and this in, um, historical photos, and these are materials. So, you get a kind of a sense of her thinking that went into the costume, each time she shows something. And which is really enriching, and really helps you understand what she’s going for.
Neysa: And at the end of the day, I would always look at it and think, “If I was a little girl, what would I wanna wear?” So, I always think that when I look at it. Would I be excited to wear that?
After our Q&A we were treated to a beautiful and delicious Polynesian inspired meal and reception. The food was delicious, and really colorful. They prepared a beautiful display, even our plates looked like they came from the island. It was so much fun. I wish I had more photos to share, but my phone had to be recharged. It was really nice to sit down, enjoy the food, and also to mingle with the film makers.
We were even treated to a private Polynesian dance presentation by Tiana Lirufau and two of her talented students. They took the time to tell us the meanings behind several of the dancers movements. It was really fascinating. I love how the meanings tie right into our discussion with the filmmakers, on connections between us, the earth, the sea and the people that came before us. The dance movements were so beautiful, and powerful.
You can watch most of the presentation in the video below, courtsey of Kim, from Two Kids and a Coupon.
You can also bring home Moana, the movie available NOW on Blu-ray, DVD, and Digital!
FTC Disclaimer: I attended an expense paid trip by Disney to press events for the home release of Moana. I was not asked or influenced to write a positive review. All opinions shared are always honest and my own. This post contains no affiliate links.