With their latest animated feature, Moana, Disney is charting a course for new territory. Centered on a great historical mystery, Moana delves into the culture of the Pacific Islands through the imagined narrative of its title heroine.
3000 years ago, the Pacific Islanders were the greatest navigators the world had ever seen, finding their way across the Pacific Ocean without the assistance of any nautical instruments, working their way from west to east in one of history’s greatest feats of exploration. But one day, all voyaging stopped without any explanation, and for a thousand years, the entire culture stopped migrating. One day, without explanation, they took to the seas once again. They began to explore even further, populating the Eastern Pacific islands along the way. No one knows why the voyaging stopped. No one knows why it started again, but through the imagination of directors Ron Clements and John Musker a new cinematic myth emerges with Moana, centered around the titular young explorer (voiced by newcomer Auliʻi Cravalho) — the daughter of her island’s chief (and ruler in training) — who forms an unlikely alliance with the great demigod Maui (voiced by Dwayne Johnson), discovering her fate as a great explorer and rekindling the voyaging spirit of her culture.
In preparation to bring their vision to life, the Moana filmmakers embarked on a series of intensive research trips to the Pacific Islands to learn about the cultures that inspired their narrative. Along the way, the assembled their “Oceanic Story Trust”, a group of cultural experts made up of anthropologists, archeologists, linguists, historians, dancers, tattoo artists, and elders to help ground the story in the true life history behind it.
Below you’ll find a series of behind-the-scenes images, concept art, and storyboards that offer a glimpse into Moana’s journey from concept to execution, including multiple incarnations of Moana’s character design, alternate versions of her village costume, and a look at Maui, his anthropomorphic “Mini Maui” tattoo, and one of his many shapeshifting forms as a hawk, and it’s all just the tip of the iceberg of Moana’s fantastical, culturally detailed narrative.
Here’s the official synopsis for Moana:
Three thousand years ago, the greatest sailors in the world voyaged across the vast Pacific, discovering the many islands of Oceania. But then, for a millennium, their voyages stopped – and no one knows why. From Walt Disney Animation Studios comes “Moana,” a sweeping, CG-animated feature film about an adventurous teenager who sails out on a daring mission to save her people. During her journey, Moana (voice of Auliʻi Cravalho) meets the mighty demigod Maui (voice of Dwayne Johnson), who guides her in her quest to become a master wayfinder. Together, they sail across the open ocean on an action-packed voyage, encountering enormous monsters and impossible odds, and along the way, Moana fulfills the ancient quest of her ancestors and discovers the one thing she’s always sought: her own identity. Directed by the renowned filmmaking team of Ron Clements and John Musker (“The Little Mermaid,” “Aladdin,” “The Princess & the Frog”) and produced by Osnat Shurer (“Lifted,” “One Man Band”), “Moana” sails into U.S. theaters on Nov. 23, 2016.