New Disney movie 'Moana' wasn't going to be about Moana at all
Posted September 25, 2016
It’s almost a sure thing that Disney’s next hit film "Moana" will surf its way to success in theaters.
But the film audiences will see is a little different than what was originally imagined.
“Moana” is an upcoming Disney film set for release in November of this year that tells the tale of a young teenager, Moana (Auli’i Cravalho), who goes on an adventure with a retired demigod named Maui (Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson) across the ocean.
Moana, unlike many other Disney characters, has two companions as well — a pig named Pua and Heihei, a goofy and idiotic chicken.
But this almost wasn’t the case, according to The Huffington Post. Directors John Musker and Ron Clements had something different in mind for her companions.
“In the earlier treatments of this story, Heihei was actually smart — kind of an ornery guy but very bright. But he didn’t seem quite as funny as we wanted him to be,” Musker said in a recent interview, according to HuffPost. “So we asked Moana‘s story team to come up with a funnier take on this rooster character.”
In fact, Heihei originally was supposed to watch over Moana. Musker and Clements told HuffPost that Moana’s dad, Chief Tui, originally assigned the bird to follow Moana on her quest, hoping that the bird wouldn’t “let his daughter get out of that rooster’s sight.” This would very much be in the same vein as Zazoo from “The Lion King.”
But the bird didn’t get a good response from those working on the film. Soon enough, producers considered the idea of cutting the bird altogether.
Soon they settled on a new idea — make the bird as dumb as possible. This would make Moana’s journey even more complicated, since the bird would serve as a distraction on her quest.
They also worked to make sure the bird had a strong role in the central plot, helping Moana escape an action sequence toward the middle of the film.
In fact, Clements and Musker told Time that the film’s original story wasn’t at all like it is now, either. In early production, the film focused on Maui and his mythical allure. The producers felt that audiences would enjoy learning more about this mythical creation.
But Clements and Musker saw an opportunity to create a new female heroine, one who isn’t your traditional idea of a Disney princess.
“We thought it would be very appealing to do a female empowerment story that didn’t center on any sort of romance,” Musker told Time. “We saw it as sort of a True Grit-type story: the determined girl who teams up with a washed-up guy. They have this adventure and she finds her true calling — and saves the world in the process.”
In general, production on “Moana” was a little more complicated than most other Disney films. As SlashFilm reported, the production team chose to embark on three separate research trips to the South Pacific so that they could develop details they needed to create an authentic story.
The researchers hiked through tropical jungles where they also snapped plenty of photos that they later used as inspiration for their animation scenes, according to SlashFilm.
“All the colors in the film were based on photographs they took while on their research trips. They enhanced the saturation a little to caricature the colors because photos often didn’t capture the water or their memory of how beautiful it looked.”
The production crew also created “The Oceanic Story Trust,” which was a group of producers who wanted to make sure the region and its characters — who hail from ancient Polynesia — were displayed in an authentic way. This included talking with artists, navigators and even tattoo artists to make sure everything in the film met authentic standards, SlashFilm reported.
“They were very particular about all details of the film,” according to SlashFilm. “For instance, even Moana’s clothes were made from materials and using designs that would have been made 2,000 years ago. Red colors have a significance to the Pacific islanders, meaning royalty, so they reserved those colors for a ceremonial costume.”
“Moana” will hit theaters on Nov. 23, 2016. Johnson showed off a new poster for the film on Instagram and promised that there’d be a new trailer on Thursday.
Herb Scribner is a writer for Deseret Digital Media.