This Sunday, June 12, Disney unveiled the teaser trailer for their latest project, Moana, starring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson as demigod Maui and newcomer Auli’l Cravalho as the voice of the titular character. The trailer prepares audiences for an exciting adventure around the South Pacific nearly 2,000 years ago.
“This is a coming-of-age story, this is not a romance,” co-director John Musker tells Variety Latino. “The story of this young girl who feels connected to her ancient voice and cultures that had sort of gone by the wayside as it really did in the South Pacific for a thousand years. People stopped voyaging and historians don’t know why. She feels connected to this deeper culture and our story really is about her finding out really who she is. It’s an empowerment story for her.”
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Co-editor Ron Clemente adds, “She goes through a heck of a lot in this story and she comes out smarter and stronger after going through this journey. It’s a hero’s journey and she really is a hero and that’s what the story is about.”
Moana is going to get a little help along her journey from demigod Maui, who is filled with tattoos and other goodies that help him along the way. The Rock was the first choice of both directors, although they weren’t sure he would agree to do an animated film.
“He pretty much was [our first choice],” explains Musker. “With his background — he’s half Samoan— and his feeling for his own culture. One of the things we learned when we were in the Pacific is the importance of culture to people and their ancestors. We heard this phrase, ‘Know your mountain.’ Unless you know your mountain, you will not know who you are. Dwayne’s mountain certainly is his Samoan background. If there was a demigod in the modern world, it seems like it’s Dwayne Johnson, doesn’t it? He’s bigger than life, he’s charismatic, and he’s a hero to people. All the things that Maui was, Duane is.”
In the film, Johnson will get to spread his wings and do a bit of singing and dancing. Musker and Clements reached out to Lin-Manuel Miranda in his pre-Hamilton days, to possibly work on Moana.
“With Lin it was just a fortuitous thing,” Musker says. “We actually met with Lin about two and half years ago. We went to New York and we were looking for him to join our musical team as we were just beginning the process of developing the music for the story. We met with many people in New York and we loved Lin immediately. It’s his enthusiasm and he’s just so passionate and so smart. He’s kind of a genius. When we met with him he had just briefly mentioned he was working on this musical that was kind of a hip-hop story of Alexander Hamilton that was going to public theater. We hadn’t heard any of the music from Hamilton or any of that.
“His stuff from In The Heights was very influential for us because he very effortlessly moved from Spanish to English in those songs. We thought that in this movie we wanted to have songs with well-written languages from the South Pacific, whether it be Samoan or Tahitian with English and Lin did it so brilliantly in In the Heights and we thought that made him a good fit. He was more than happy to embrace with Opetaia Foa’i, who is our musician from the South Pacific. They made this amazing collaboration between the two of them.”
Johnson took to Twitter recently to express how excited he was to perform a song Miranda made especially for him. According to Clemente, Miranda was equally as excited as the semi-retired WWE star was to collaborate.
“One of the most exciting things for Lin was being able to write a song for Dwayne,” Clemente says. “He’s been a fan of his going back to the wrestling days.”
Musker adds, “It’s a showpiece for Dwayne and I think one of the things he was most excited about doing was performing a song like that. Lin did a fabulous job on it. It’s a funny song.”
With all the comedic and adventurous elements, both Musker and Clemente hope audiences learn more about the cultures of the South Pacific —both then and now. They also hope young girls who watch the film realize they can be like Moana, who is totally different to the Disney princess usually portrayed in films.
“When we were down in Tahiti, there was an elder down there on Moorea, his name was Papa Mape. He said to us, ‘For years we have been swallowed by your culture, for once can you be swallowed by our culture?’ So we took that to heart and we really wanted to make a movie that they could embrace, all of these great people that we met.”
Clemente adds, “Reach into who you are and it doesn’t necessarily involve a pretty dress or a tiara. It really is embracing your own talent, your own passion, and fighting for who you think you really are and you deciding who you are. I think it’s going to be good that way.”
Moana opens in theaters November 23.