*I attended an early press day as a guest of Disney for purposes of this post. All thoughts and opinions remain my own.*
The other month we learned all about the creative process of creating the characters for Moana. We met the members of the team who brought Disney’s adventurous heroine to life, from the initial sketches to costume design to animation – and how both research and the actress bringing Moana to life helped inspire the artists creating her character. Bill Schwab (Art Director, Characters), Amy Smeed (Head of Animation), Malcon Pierce (Animation Supervisor, Moana) and Neysa Bové (Vis Dev Artist) shared us the story of how Moana was brought to life. The magical characters were all inspired by the people they encountered during their travels to the islands of the Pacific, filmmakers populated their story with a host of dynamic characters. A top-notch voice cast helps bring the characters of Moana to life. I wanted to share a little bit about each of the characters you will meet on this special journey we get to experience with Moana.
Walt Disney Animation Studios has another masterpiece in the making, Moana, a sweeping, CG-animated feature film about an adventurous teenager who sails out on a daring mission to save her people. Moana is a vibrant, tenacious and compassionate 16-year-old who is struggling to find her true self. During her journey, Moana (voice of Auli’i Cravalho) meets the once-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. Moana fulfills the ancient quest of her ancestors and discovers the one thing she’s always sought: her own identity. So come get ready to sail away on this magnificent journey and meet Moana, her family, friends, and other creatures she meets along the way.
Moana is an adventurous, curious, tenacious and compassionate 16-year-old who is on a journey to find her true self. While her father, Chief Tui, pressures her to follow in his footsteps and lead their island one day, Moana is drawn to the sea. We get to witness firsthand her love for the sea, and it is magical. The people of her village are forbidden to go beyond the safety of the reef, yet the open ocean seems to beckon Moana. “It doesn’t seem possible for her to fulfill her heart’s desire and still be true to her people and her culture,” says director Ron Clements. “She descended from navigators, but she doesn’t know it.”
Her island is threatened by a terrible darkness, which causes Moana to break the rules and sets sail on an epic adventure to save her people and find the answers she’s been searching for her whole life. Says director John Musker, “She is inspired to solve the problem of this world that has been haunting them and has made voyaging impossible. If she can face this problem that’s plagued them for a thousand years, perhaps voyaging could resume.”
Moana is a strong hero who sets out to retrieve what her people lost a long time ago. Moana wants to save the world. She’s a powerful role model for today’s audiences, perfect for young girls to look up to.
The perfect voice was found to bring Moana to life. Auli‘i Cravalho was called on to provide the voice of the tenacious teenager. “She has the spirit of Moana,” says Shurer. “We tease her and she teases us right back. There’s a fearlessness, but at the same time genuine warmth. She is a natural talent and a professional—but still a kid at heart.”
Maui is a demigod—half god, half mortal, all awesome. Charismatic and funny, he wields a magical fishhook that allows him to shapeshift into all kinds of animals and pull up islands from the sea. Maui was once considered the greatest hero in Oceania. Watch for Maui’s tattoos. His body is covered with tattoos of his extraordinary feats, including a mini-version of himself that acts as Maui’s conscience. The tattoos are animated and really help to tell the story and adds some comedy that is fun to watch. “Maui is responsible for the trouble that threatens Moana’s people,” says Musker. “He’s paying a price for his actions and is somewhat of a lost hero—a shadow of his former self. Moana needs him to right his wrongs and restore what’s been lost.”
Alongside Moana, Maui brings his super strength—as well as his super-sized issues. “He has an all-encompassing drive to succeed that gets him into trouble,” says Clements.
Dwayne Johnson voices Maui. “He’s very connected to his Samoan roots,” says Clements. “Maui is a charismatic character and Dwayne is nothing if not charismatic. He has great comedic timing, nails the action scenes and is so likable. And he can sing.”
Gramma Tala, Moana’s confidante and best friend, shares her granddaughter’s special connection to the ocean. Although her son, Chief Tui, is a no-nonsense leader, Gramma Tala most definitely dances to the beat of her own drum. She feels in her soul that the ocean has big plans for Moana, but she won’t reveal the legendary secrets of their wayfinding ancestors till the time is right.
“Gramma Tala is the keeper of the ancient stories,” says screenwriter Jared Bush. “She knows the history of their people and understands how important it is that Moana holds onto her dreams. But she never gives her the answers. She lets Moana find her way.”
Rachel House is the voice of Gramma Tala.