Moana: A Deeper Look Into the Story

With the release of Moana on Digital and Blu-ray this week, as part of my recent Disney press trip, I had the opportunity to see some of the bonus features with presentations by Directors Ron Clements & John Musker, Producer Osnat Shurer, Costume Designer Neysa Bove and “Mini Maui” 2D Animation Supervisor Eric Goldberg. It’s a privilege to share with you a deeper look into the story of Moana. 

MOANA village costume design. Artist: Neysa Bové, Visual Development Artist.

Moana: A Deeper Look Into the Story

Photo by Jesse Grant/Getty Images for Disney) John Musker; Ron Clements; Osnat Shurer

When I say privilege, I mean, to have a special presentation with the filmmakers, it was amazing. Yet it was also very moving for when they shared their stories behind some of the bonus feature footage, it was a fantastic experience. We started off asking about any favorite scenes that were deleted from the film that will be on the Blu-ray.

Osnat:  There was a, a deleted scene called, uh, “Warrior Face.” And it’s, it, it happens to also be a deleted song. It’s a duet between Maui and Moana, and he’s sort of trying to teach her kind of a theme. Like it’s all about the face you make, not how you feel inside. And the demo that you’ll hear on the deleted scene on the DVD, we had the great joy of having the Hamilton cast do those.

So, Phillipa Soo who plays the wife of Hamilton, and Chris Jackson who played, George Washington. They’re doing Maui and Moana. And it’s a great fun scene. It got deleted for story reasons. It was right before what became ‘Shiny’, and, you know, there’s only so much. But, that’s probably my favorite deleted scene.

Ron: Yeah, the demos on this movie were incredible, ‘cause a lot of it was the cast of Hamilton singing, singing versions of the songs before the real recording. So, that was something.

You know, there’s a scene I like a lot. I think that’s a short scene that was cut, that is a scene between actually Gramma Tala and the chief, her son. They don’t really have a lot of interaction in the movie, but this scene, there’s sort of arguing about the future of Moana, and you get a really strong point of view of each one of them. I also like that scene because it was the audition scene that, we cast both Rachel House, who does the voice of Gramma Tala, and Tem Morrison, who does the voice of the chief. It was a very nicely written scene.

Osnat: There’s a closing line where they’re arguing and the chief says, you know, uh, “You’ll stop filling her head with these kinds of ideas, so says your chief.” And she says to him, “This is small thinking and fear talking, so says your mother.” I love that line.

Mother knows best.

John: We also have a scene that in 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, one of the early screenings we had this big canoe race, where she’s basically races all her brothers and manages to finish sort of first. That was a fun scene. Then as the story evolved, the brothers went away, because partly because we were trying to focus more on gender not being her problem so much, as just 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.

Osnat: We did do eight different versions of this movie…

Eric: I can tell you like my favorite line that got cut from the movie. When Gramma Tala was saying that she was going to come back as a ray. And she lifts her arm and bats the skin, and goes, “I’ve already got the wings for it.” [ALL LAUGH]

MOANA – (Pictured) Grandma Tala and Moana. ©2016 Disney. All Rights Reserved.

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?

John: 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’re the soul of everything.

Sometimes in our culture, it’s all just about what’s here now, or what’s coming. But they had a real respect for their ancestors in the past. I think we could take a cue from that in terms of moving forward. That’s one of the things I really liked.

Ron: There’s a big emphasis on connection and interconnectedness. 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”, sort of attitude that I think is very special.

John: Yeah, obviously we’re in a culture now where there’s a lot of talk about 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. I think that’s what this film did really in a way that celebrates a culture, we’re trying to get a window into a culture that we don’t know about. And so, I think that kind of connection and feeling that, we can learn things from another culture, I think it’s valuable.

Osnat:  I think also the respect for nature, the relationship with nature. I talked about it a little bit in the piece because we were on this small island and we had a ceremony there with 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. Everything.

©2016 Disney. All Rights Reserved.

Any chance for a sequel to Moana?

Ron: Oh, I’m sure there are stories to tell. The mythology is very rich somehow, we people in the western world, we’re, we’re pretty familiar with Greek mythology. I think people know that, and Norse mythology, and a lot of different ones. 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, come back into development 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.

MOANA village costume designs. Artist: Neysa Bové, Visual Development Artist.

For the costuming, how many versions of each costume do you have before you have to pitch it?

Neysa: Well with costuming or design, you have to create so many renditions because, how I like to design is present so many options and let these guys go shopping. I mean, to give you an idea, just for the necklace, I think we went through 20-something different designs.

John: Certainly on her signature necklace, John Lasseter had a strong say on what appealed to him, what didn’t. And, the idea of that necklace was the combination of the land of the sea. That’s kind of the design it’s on there. And it was a very long process. But it was a lot of variations. But certainly Neysa would tell us, here’s, here’s six of them, I like that one.  It wasn’t just us stumbling around the dark. She would say, “What, these are the different features.”

Osnat: The really cool thing is, as she would show a costume or any prop she designed, there are all these references on the side. So, I saw this on the high fashion runway, and this in historical photos, and these are materials. So, you get 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. Like, would I be excited to wear that?

Polynesian Dance

A big part of Moana was, of course, the music, which also meant dancing. We had a special treat with a look at why it’s more than just dancing in the Polynesian culture.

Chatting with the movie makers, learning about Polynesian culture through dance and food, the event was such a special treat!

MOANA on Facebook and Twitter 

Now available on Blu-ray, DVD and Digital!

*I participated in a press day hosted by Disney to share the release of Moana with my readers. All opinions are my own.

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