This is the first full-length computer-animated feature film written and directed by John Musker and Ron Clements, who directed The Great Mouse Detective (1986), The Little Mermaid (1989), Aladdin (1992), Hercules (1997), Treasure Planet (2002), and The Princess and the Frog (2009), all of which were animated primarily by hand. When it was initially rumored that this film would be made using "Meander," a combination of hand-drawn and computer animation introduced with Disney's short film Paperman (2012), Musker said it was "far too early to apply the Paperman hybrid technique to a feature. The Meander digital in-betweening interface still has a host of production issues (including color) that need to be perfected." More to the point, the directors said that the reason the film was to be made in computer animation was that the film's environment, including the ocean, would benefit much more from the use of CGI as opposed to traditional animation, and that three-dimensional computer animation is naturally good at generating the sculpted faces of the people of the South Pacific. Maui's tattoos, on the other hand, were animated entirely by hand.
Dwayne Johnson believes that voice acting is the most difficult career in acting, and is personally annoyed when celebrities are cast in animated films despite voicing their characters badly. When Johnson was cast for the film, he repeatedly asked the other voice actors present if he was really giving a good performance.
The spiral on Moana's necklace and on the sail of her boat is called a koru. It represents the unfurling fern frond, symbolizing new life, new beginnings, personal growth, hope, a new start, perfection, rebirth, awakening, purity, the spirit of rejuvenation and peace. As a double spiral, it also symbolizes kinship and belonging.
In the trailer, Maui says he lassoed the sun with a fish hook and pulled the land from the ocean. According to Maori legend, Maui pulled New Zealand from the ocean while fishing, and lassoed the sun because the days were too short. Another version says that Maui lassoed the sun with a net.
Lin-Manuel Miranda signed on to write the music for this film before his Broadway musical "Hamilton" became a smash hit. After that, he would often chat with the rest of the crew through Skype from backstage, sometimes while still in costume.
According to archaeological evidence, the exploration of Western Polynesia proceeded rapidly until about 900 BCE, stopped suddenly for over 1,000 years, then resumed just as suddenly, with all of Eastern Polynesia colonized within a few centuries. Several plausible explanations exist, but the exact cause of the "Long Pause"remains a mystery.
Moana's island is called Motu Nui. In several Polynesian languages, particularly that of Rapa Nui (Easter Island), "Motu" means "island" and "nui" means "big." At least two real-life Pacific islands are named Motu Nui: one is just off Easter Island, the other is in French Polynesia. Both are less than a thousand feet across.
The black patches of rock that peek out from under sand and vegetation on Motunui is solidified Pahoehoe, Hawaiian for "smooth, unbroken lava." That means Motunui is a volcanic island that has risen, or been "pulled", out of the sea.
In the October 20, 2014 interview with Huffington Post, director Ron Clements recalls the experience of visiting the islands of the South Pacific to gain artistic and authentic references for the film: "When we visited those islands, John Musker and I were especially interested in meeting people who lived on islands where they had grown up surrounded by an ocean. We wondered how that might affect your point-of-view. And we learned a lot. We learned all kinds of things that we didn't know. We learned how the sea and the land are one and the same. How these people think of the ocean as something that unites the islands, not something that separates them. And then we learned about the great migration and how the people of the Islands take great pride in the fact that their ancient ancestors invented this way of navigation called dead reckoning which involved studying the stars and the currents. And way before the European explorers or the Vikings, these people had this very, very incredibly advanced techniques of navigation." As Clements continued, "So many of these ideas in terms of respect for nature, respect for the ocean and the elements - all of these things - really had a huge influence on us and then began to make their way into this film's story," Ron continued. "Which is why Moana is now the most ambitious thing that John and I have ever attempted. There's definitely an epic aspect to this story. Not to mention huge opportunities for comedy and action and adventure. But at the same time, there's also a key relationship at the very heart of this story. An emotional core that - I think - is especially important with this film. But as it is with any of these things, you just hope that - in the end - you can get it right."
Many of the characters are Pacific island language names or words. Moana means "ocean" and "blue" in both Hawaiian and Maori. Vaiana, the title of the Asian and most of the European releases, means "fresh water". Hei Hei, Moana's pet rooster, means "chicken" in Maori. Pua, Moana's pet pig, means "offspring" or "flower," and may be short for "pua'a" meaning "pig." Maui is the name of a Polynesian demigod and the second largest Hawaiian island. Tui, Moana's father, is the name of a bird native to New Zealand, home of Temuera Morrison. Tala, Moana's grandmother, who tells the legend of Maui, Te Fiti and Te Ka at the beginning of the movie, means "story" in Samoan, and is the name of the goddess of the stars in Tagalog mythology. Tamatoa, the giant crab, means "trophies" in Maori.
The original idea was for the film to branch away from the Disney Princess template and focus entirely on Maui, with the story a loose conglomeration of a few legends about him. The crew traveled to Polynesia, and became so fascinated with the culture that Moana was created as the new focus character.
When Moana strikes the drum on the ancient ship in the cave on her home island, she has a vision of her ancestors roaming the seas, including an example of navigating by the stars. The constellation Orion is clearly visible in the sky, near the horizon and rotated at an angle that could only be seen by an observer in the southern hemisphere. It's the film's only clue about its geographic setting.
This is one of the few animated Disney films in which neither Frank Welker nor Dee Bradley Baker supply the animal vocals. Heihei is voiced by Alan Tudyk, and Pua's vocalizations are sampled from real pigs.
Starting in December 2014, Disney hosted a global casting call for the role of Moana. Thousands of girls auditioned for the role through the Internet and real-life casting calls in different locations.
Zootopia (2016) came out eight months before this film. It was the first time Disney had released two animated feature films the same year since 2002, when it released Lilo & Stitch (2002) and Treasure Planet (2002).
A fallen statue of Maui on a desert island seems to allude to Percy Bysshe Shelley's classic poem Ozymandias. Ozymandias was an egotistical ruler from ancient times, but all that remained of him was a fallen statue with a broken nose.
As Maui jumps into the Realm of Monsters, he shouts "Cheehoo!" It's the "Samoan Holler", an expression of excitement rooted in Samoa, and often said in Hawaii. It's the first Disney animated film to use a Samoan Holler. It can be easily be mistaken for a Goofy Holler, which has shown up in many Disney Films.
After directing The Princess and the Frog (2009), John Musker and Ron Clements started working on an adaptation of Terry Pratchett's "Mort", but rights problems prevented them from continuing. To avoid similar problems, they pitched three new ideas, and in 2011 they started developing this film, based on an original idea.
Pua and Hei Hei were nearly scrapped from the film due to internal belief that the film had too many sidekicks. Adam Green suggested that Hei Hei, who was written as mean to contrast Pua's innocence, could be stupid instead. John Musker loved it, but gave Green a very narrow time-frame, as the movie was moving along in production and the work would typically take about four weeks. Green finished it two weeks, and the characters remained in the film.
When Moana goes into the sea as a young child, the waves part and become a wall of water. A giant turtle swims by, followed by a baby turtle that resembles Squirt from Finding Nemo (2003) and Finding Dory (2016).
Two scenes reference Pocahontas (1995): Chief Tui echoes a scene in which a fatherly chief acknowledges his daughter by saying "it suits you", this time rather than referring to Pocahontas' necklace, Chief Tui speaks of Moana's role as a leader in the village. Additionally, in Tamatoa's song, "Shiny," he mentions Moana's granny saying "listen to your heart", also from Pocahontas.
In the October 20, 2014 interview with Huffington Post, director John Musker said of the film's inspiration: "I grew up reading the novels of Herman Melville and Joseph Conrad. And the South Seas, the exotic world that a lot of their stories are set in, was extremely intriguing to me. Just looking at the art which comes out that corner of the globe - the carvings, the statuary, the sculpture - I thought that it all begged for this bigger-than-life treatment that you can only get with animation," John remembered. "So to expand on that idea, I then began reading up on the mythology of this area. Which is when I came across these incredible tales about Maui, who's one of the great cultural heroes of the South Pacific." It was, then, Musker felt that a film it could be found amid the promising potential. After when the potential adaptation of Terry Pratchett's "Mort" got canned, he and longtime collaborator, director Ron Clements, pitched the project to WDAS CEO John Lasseter. "So Ron and I developed this very simple storyline. I love this arena. I love the bare bones of the story you've got. But this really begs for research. On the ground research. So we were forced, as it were, " Musker said jokingly, "to go to the South Seas two years ago. We've gone twice now. Two big research trips. And those trips have been revelatory and kind of life-changing in a way. In that it made us take our very simple outline and rework the whole thing."
In the beginning of the movie when young Moana is grabbing the seashells from the sand, spirals appear in the sand as the water moves away from the shells. The spiral is also in the Heart of Te Fiti. This is when she is chosen by the ocean.
This is the first feature film produced by Osnat Shurer, who is currently Vice President of Development at Walt Disney Animation Studios. In the October 20, 2014 Huffington Post interview, Shurer stated: "And much as I loved all the projects currently in development (WDAS has a very strong development slate and amazing filmmakers at the helm), I particularly resonated with 'Moana' for a number of reasons: Ron Clements and John Musker are awesome. This film deals with a surprising, exciting, and lesser known culture, which is right up my alley. It's a fantastic story. And Moana has this kick-ass, feisty, interesting female protagonist," Shurer explained. "So that when Ron and John asked if I would be their producer, and I said I would very much like to, John Lasseter, Ed Catmull, and Andrew Millstein thought it was a fantastic match."
On her first day of travel, just as Moana puts Hei Hei back in the storage bin for the first time, the melody that plays is from "Unstoppable," a song that was composed for the movie but not used. A demo version is included in the 2-CD deluxe edition of the soundtrack.
"Logo Te Pate" and "An Innocent Warrior" are not songs original to Moana, although they were re-recorded for the film. "Logo Te Pate" is originally from the Te Vaka album "Havili", and "An Innocent Warrior" appears under a different title in another Te Vaka album.
The whole kakamora chase sequence alludes to Mad Max: Fury Road (2015). Directors John Musker and Ron Clements once said in an interview that they are big fans of the "Mad Max" film series and that they had always wanted to incorporate a reference to the films in any of their films, as a way to pay homage to the film franchise.
The beach scene where toddler Moana escorts a baby turtle across the beach with a palm leaf is a direct reference to Lilo and Stitch. During the credits of Lilo and Stitch, we see a photograph of Stitch escorting two turtles in a similar fashion on the beach.
The villagers are told to stay in the lagoon, and not to go past the reef. Disney's Aulani resort is in a part of Oahu called Ko'Olina, which is made up of four man-made lagoons. It's considered safe because more predatory sea animals can't come past the reef without being seen clearly.
This is the second computer-animated Disney feature film to use brief traditional animation, mainly Maui's tattoos and the last verse of the "You're Welcome" song sequence. The first one was Bolt (2008), which had hand-drawn animation in the first half, during the Map Sequence of Bolt and Mittens traveling across each state, and at the end the closing credits.
References to other Disney films: during Tamatoa's song "shiny" he says "diamond in the rough" a reference to Aladdin. Maui turns into Sven from Frozen when he retrieves his hook in the middle of Tamatoa's song. Near the end of the film, Moana's father says "it suits you," a reference to Pocahontas, when her father said the same about her mother's necklace.
This is the second time Dwayne Johnson has played a demi-god. He also played the title character in Hercules (2014). Disney released an animated version of Hercules (1997), which did not involve Johnson.
This is the fourth computer animated film of 2016 to incorporate brief moments of pure traditional "hand-drawn" animation. The others were Kung Fu Panda 3 (2016), The Angry Birds Movie (2016), and Trolls (2016).
In sailing tradition, tattoos of a pig and rooster are symbols of good luck to prevent drowning, as the wooden cages in which the animals were kept would often float during a shipwreck, giving the animals or any hangers on a higher surviabioity rate. It is therefore fitting that the sailor Moana be accompanied by Heihei and Pua.
As part of the run-up promotion for Moana, Walt Disney Animation Studios released a series of short behind-the-scenes videos under the hashtag #MoanaMondays. One of them consisted of a few seconds of Alan Tudyk recording "dialogue" for the character of Heihei (actually just a series of clucks and bawks), after which he remarks wryly, "I went to Juilliard!"
Doug Walker of Nostalgia Critic fame received a lot of letters from his fans asking if he had any involvement in this movie. Walker responded by making a video explaining that he had no involvement with the film, and the person in the end credits simply had the same name as him.
Walt Disney Animation Studios' last film to be worked on by Eric Goldberg before he'd move on to work for DreamWorks Animation when they were still in early development of one of their films Abominable (2019).
The last film of Walt Disney Animation Studios' to be directed and worked on by John Husker and Ron Clements before they'd move onto work for Sony Animation when they were still in early production of one of their films The Mitchells vs The Machines (2020).
The trivia items below may give away important plot points.
The pillars that Moana and Maui climb to reach the entrance to Lalotai are faithful renditions of basalt columns. Columnar basalt is formed when thick lava cools slowly. It has also been observed on Mars. Moana and Maui essentially jump down into the middle of an old lava flow.
To find Maui, Moana follows a star pattern that resembles Maui's hook. "Maui's Fishhook" is a real-life constellation in some Polynesian cultures. In Western cultures, it's called Scorpius, and the hook is likened to a scorpion tail. The real Fishhook/Scorpius looks nothing like the star pattern shown in the movie.
The blue glow that forms in the wake of Tala's spirit is a real-world phenomenon caused by plankton known as dinoflagellates. They exist in all aquatic environments, including snow and ice. When they are particularly prominent they can cause waves, boat wakes, and even the water around a swimming person to glow as brightly as seen in the film.
In the post credit scene, Tamatoa the Giant Crab broke the fourth wall, where he asked the audience if they would be happy to help him to get him out of his shell if he was named Sebastian and had a "cool Jamaican accent". He was making a reference to Sebastian the crab from The Little Mermaid (1989), which was also directed by John Musker and Ron Clements.
Moana is the first animated Disney feature film since Meet the Robinsons (2007) in which the main antagonist doesn't speak. Te Fiti (the island goddess) becomes Te Ka (the lava goddess) until Moana returns the Heart, reminding the goddess who she truly is. In Princess Mononoke (1997), the normally beneficial Spirit of the Forest loses its head and becomes a destructive force until characters return its head.
At the beginning when Gramma Tala is telling the story of Maui, the monsters in the back include Tamatoa and Marshmallow from Frozen (2013). When Moana and Maui enter the realm of monsters they meet both of these creatures. The monster with the back spikes is actually Marshmallow.
Right at the end of the movie when Motunui is reviving and coming back to life, there is a quick glimpse of a flower blooming. This flower is the same enchanted flower that Mother Gothel uses to keep herself young until it is used to heal the Queen in Tangled (2010)
The manner in which Te Ka crawls towards Moana before she restores the heart resembles the movements of Ursula in The Little Mermaid (1989), when she is crawling towards Ariel on the deck of the ship in the finale.
Near the end of the film, Moana said, "See you out there, Maui," and he replied, "See you out there, Moana." He turns into a bird and shoots water up to the sky. It forms a "D" in the style of the Walt Disney Pictures logo.
At the beginning of the film, Moana saves a baby sea turtle. Later, when she discovers the cave of boats, you can see a sea turtle carved into the prow of the boat that she eventually takes to find Maui.
After toddler Moana helps the baby sea turtle, it reunites with a turtle that appears to be its parent. If the all Disney movies take place in the same universe, the baby turtle could by Squirt from Finding Nemo (2003), and the parent turtle could be Crush. In Finding Nemo (2003), Squirt is Crush's only offspring. When Marlin asks Crush how old he is, Crush replies, "150 dude, and still young!"
Moana contains two clear references to the film The Abyss (1989). First, the characterized and (almost) personified ocean (water taking form/shape shifting) is similar to the water "tube/ROV" that scopes out the oil rig in The Abyss (1989). Second, the bio luminescent manta ray (spirit of Moana's grandmother), bears a striking resemblance to the creatures at the end of The Abyss (1989).