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, the voyaging stopped, without any explanation, and for a thousand years, the entire culture stopped migrating. Then, generations later, again without explanation, they took to the seas once more. 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 (Aladdin, The Little Mermaid) 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.
Back in July, I visited Walt Disney Studios for a behind-the-scenes look at the incredibly detailed and extensive process behind the making of Moana. We had a chance to speak with the story team, animation department, and the production and costume designers, among others. Check out the highlights of what I learned below.