Time for some predictions about Disney’s latest Frozen follow-up!
Moana takes its lead from Pacific Islander mythology and folklore. Disney has built a tradition of adapting legends and contes into animated musicals. Some delivered excellently, and others, well…others have been less faithful.
Looking at you, Hercules.
It seems like with Moana we’re going to get a basic hero’s journey tale, but within Pacific Islander legend. How’s that going to work?
What They Will Do:
Let the music shine. Disney knows the reason it sold all those Elsa toothbrushes is because no one could get “Let it Go”out of their heads for months—nay! Years.
News of Disney’s Lin-Manuel Miranda hire will shock no one; in fact, I don’t doubt that most already anticipate the movie for this very reason. What may surprise you is when Disney offered Miranda the job. They actually based their choice on Miranda’s success with his first musical In the Heights, which seamlessly blended different languages into one cohesive ensemble. Miranda wrote his Moana music in the midst of the Hamilton explosion, with cast members pitching in to help him test the songs.
Opetaia Foa’i, founder of South Pacific Fusion group Te Vaka, joins the team bringing cultural and stylistic expertise. Rounding out the trio is Mark Mancina, who previously worked with Disney on The Lion King and Tarzan.
What They Won’t Do:
I do not think, as some critics have suggested, that Disney will flatten Oceania’s rich and diverse conglomerate of islands because appropriating minority cultures makes money.
They could have easily decided to set Moana in Fiji for name recognition but keep Samoan tatoos and Tahitian drumming. However, because many islands inspired the filmmakers, they created one fictional island to represent everything they had learned from Pacific Islanders: Motunui. Producer Osnat Shurer said, “The research is at the very heart of our storytelling. [We] went to the South Pacific—Fiji, Samoa, Tahiti, Moorea. The visit there changed the vision of what this movie could be and what this story could be. When we listened to the people, that was when we really touched the beauty of the Pacific Islands. From the early trips, we met archeologists, anthropologists, fisherman, sailors, tattoo masters, choreographers, weavers. Many of these people remained in contact with us. We created the Oceanic Story Trust and we checked in with them constantly—checked in on story, design choices. This wouldn’t be what it is without their guidance and input.”
What They Should Do:
They are going to milk Maui for all he’s worth. Which is a lot.
Maui is what’s known as a trickster god, meaning he’s the Loki, Anansi, or Hermes of Pacific Islander folklore. Everyone loves a clever troublemaker, so Maui has become one of the most popular figures in the pantheon. He also features in legends from many different islands (like Hawaii, Tonga, New Zealand, and Samoa) so he can act as a bridge of sorts.
However, even though Maui has considerable merits, I don’t think Disney should leave out the rest of the cast of characters. What about Pele, the volcano goddess? They’d be silly not to use her. Gotta love lava. Or they could introduce the Tahitian creator deity Ta’aroa, who after emerging from a cosmic egg, decided there was too much empty space around him and used his own eggshell to make the sky and earth. And then there’s Kamapua’a, the Hawaiian pig god known for his warlike nature and romantic exploits. I hear there’s going to be a pig sidekick…
What They Should UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES DO:
I worry a bit that this film might be…preachy.
They’ve told us repeatedly that Moana is not a princess. She can handle herself. And she don’t need no man.
Yeah, yeah, I get it. I love my well-rounded female characters, but that doesn’t mean they need to be indestructible. Maui’s the only demigod in this team-up. Zootopia got a bit heavy-handed with their social commentary, so hopefully they’ll tone it back here.
Wish List Item:
I want to see Maui create sunbeams by beating the sun with a magic jawbone. I want to see it.
Chances of this happening: I’d say they’re pretty high, really, with Maui being so popular and all. He’s got picture books detailing his exploits! 91%.
Moana sails into theaters (sorry, sorry) November 23 and stars Auli’i Cravalho and Dwayne Johnson. Screenplay by Jared Bush. Directed by John Musker and Ron Clements.