Interviews

"Moana" is a classic tale with a modern touch

Writer: Erny Suzira


"Moana" producer Osnat Shurer and voice actress Auli'i Cravalho.

Inspired by the oral histories of the people and culture of Oceania, the Disney team travelled all the way to the Pacific Islands to learn as much as possible to translate the experience that they gained into the studio's latest animation movie, "Moana".

Directed by the inseparable duo of Ron Clements and John Musker, the same great minds behind award-winning Disney movies like "The Little Mermaid", "Aladdin", "Hercules" and "The Princess and the Frog", "Moana" follows an adventurous teenager who sails out on a daring mission to save her people.

According to Disney here's what the movie is based on:

"For centuries, the greatest navigators in the world masterfully navigated the vast Pacific, discovering the many islands of Oceania, but then around 3,000 years ago, their voyages stopped for a millennium – and though there are theories, no one knows exactly why."

And thus, an idea for a great story was born which led Musker, Clements and the rest of the Disney team to start exploring the incredible tales within the Polynesian mythology, culture and people.


Moana and demigod Maui are voiced by Auli'i and Dwayne respectively.

Voice starring newcomer Auli'i Cravalho as the titular character and Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson as the mighty demigod, Maui, who accompanies the tenacious teenager on her journey across the ocean, "Moana" is an adventurous and enchanting tale produced by executive producer of the shorts group at Pixar Animation Studios, Osnat Shurer.

Producer Osnat Shurer and voice actress Auli'i Cravalho visited Singapore to promote "Moana" recently, and Cinema Online was there to meet up with the two great talents regarding the upcoming new movie!

Cinema Online: Hi Osnat. What were the challenges of making sure that the "Moana" story is well delivered for this generation of audience?

Osnat: First of all, when the directors and I went to the Pacific Islands, we kind of really fell in love with the culture and the people that we met there. As we decided to set our films two thousand years ago, at the same time we decided that we really wanted our characters to feel current and a part of the 'now', which is a unique challenge to set up for yourselves. I think Disney movies are a reflection of the culture and time we're in, it's a highly collaborative medium. Animation is probably the most collaborative medium that I know of. Everybody who is on the movie affects and touches it, so as we develop the film, it becomes more like the reflection of the voices of the moment within Disney. So, I think that "Moana" is a really modern character even though the movie takes place two thousand years ago.

Osnat, since this is your first time producing a feature film as previously you only produced Pixar shorts, what was the process like for you?

Osnat: First of all, this took us about five years to make. In some ways it's the same, in other ways it's very different because to sustain a strong thorough line in the story, to sustain characters and characters' relationships, and to keep the movie suitable for everybody of every age all over the world because we're Disney! We honed it, refined it, drew it, voiced it and screened it with our own voices first, we do this about 8 to 9 times before we can go into production.

So, that in-depth story process which is required for a full feature is very different from the shorts. In a short film, you can get away with a lot. It's just a tiny story, you don't have to have all the layers underneath it.


Auli'i and Osnat at "Moana's" press conference in Singapore.

Disney has created tons of films with plenty of great messages, but how will "Moana' be different from the others?

Osnat: "Moana" has a number of messages; I believe the most important one is to listen to the voice inside yourself – to know who you are. Living in a world where a lot of people will lay expectations on you and wanting you to be who they think you should be, no matter how old you are or what gender you are. So, to listen to the voice that we have inside ourselves, I think it's a big message and an important one, and not one that we always do.

I also feel that there is a relationship to nature that is inherent in the film, which is the basic story of the film where somebody takes something from nature and has to be restored back to restore balance, but it is also the story of the ancient navigators of the Pacific Islands which is based on nature too. To me, that's a huge message because we're not always aware of the nature around us anymore.

Hi Auli'i! Out of the hundreds of people auditioning, you got the role! But let's say if you didn't get the part in "Moana", will you still be going down this career route?

Auli'i: No. I'm incredibly blessed to be on this film, but I did not think that I was good enough to get this role, and I'm humble enough to say that I have been changed for the better for this film, because I have learned to believe in myself and I have learned to take risks and go out on the limbs that I may not think that I am right for. I now believe in fate, and I now believe in myself. It's amazing what life can throw at you.


Auli'i, Osnat and the Asian filmmakers of "Moana" Roger Lee and Griselda
Sastrawinata who were also present at the press conference.

Do you think that there are similarities between you and Moana?

Auli'i: I'd say so. One, I have grown up on an island all my life, so does Moana. I am very deeply rooted to my culture, I go to an all Hawaiian school where the legends and the folklore of Maui and our demigods are something I grew up with all my life. And that's something that's really interesting between Moana and me.

I'm also very good friends with the ocean; I have participated in a ton of water sports like water polo, paddling, surfing, swimming, but nothing really on land because I'm a klutz. But yeah, she and I have a lot of similarities. And I think that I also have that desire to go out and to broaden my horizon like she did, and I think that's something that everyone can take away as well.

Osnat: I want to add a couple more similarities from my point of view. Moana's character has this combination and balance of compassion and empathy with a lot of courage, and just kind of standing up and taking it and coming back for more. For example, we're a very teasing culture so we teased Auli'i right away when we saw her, and she teased right back! [laughs] She took it and gave it right back, so there are actually more similarities between the two characters.

You seem like a very happy person, so did you have any difficulties in performing some of the emotional scenes in the movie?

Auli'i: Yes, I'd say I am a very happy person! I am also a very energetic person so I like to keep my energy up. So yes, the more touching scenes were a bit challenging for me. I was really deeply connected to Moana but also to her relationship with Gramma Tala. When I think of someone who pushes me a hundred percent, and supports me to no end, that would be my mom, and that's who Gramma Tala is to Moana.


Auli'i Cravalho is of Native Hawaiian, Portuguese, Chinese, and Irish descent.

Were there any particular scenes for which you had to record repeatedly?

Auli'i: There were a lot of lines that I did over and over again!

Osnat: Just to explain, in animation, we record the voice before we animate. So you don't know exactly what energy you're going to want in that moment. So sometimes, we have an actor do a line that's perfect, and they're doing it again not because it didn't work, but because we want to try it funnier, or with more energy, or we want it softer, etc. As we're creating the story and what comes before and after it, then we choose the takes we deem suitable for the situation. So it's part of our process to push for it over and over again.

Auli'i: There were a few times though that I needed to match my voice to the picture, and that is called ADR. When they have already animated a particular section, that's when I need to take my time and figure out how to match my voice to the animation.

Osnat: But she aced it. It was amazing! Our recording engineer kept going, "You sure she hasn't done this before?"

So since you've aced voice acting, will you be doing on-screen acting next?

Auli'i: I'm not sure just yet, but I hope so. I really love this industry that I'm in. I understand how hard it is to get into it, but now that I'm in I don't want to get out. So, whatever comes my way, whether its voice acting, which I've done now and I can honestly say that I loved, or on screen acting, yes, I'd love to do it.


Osnat was one of the heads of Pixar Animation Studios' short film output.

For your character Moana, did you take any references from other Disney princesses?

Auli'i: I did take like three or four days where I binged-watched a ton of Disney movies, but the one that always stands out to me is my favourite Disney film, "Mulan". I love her, she's a true heroine. She's so cool, and she totally broke the gender norm. Because you can only fight for what you believe in if you're of a certain gender, but she was like "No!" And she didn't follow what others would, and I think that it is something very special. I knew that even before I was going to work on "Moana", it would be special because it celebrates and is inspired by such a wonderful culture, and that was something that I also saw in "Mulan". There're some distinct wonderful bits like the music and culture, and I love that.

Last one. Osnat, I'm sure a lot of scenes were omitted while making this film. Is there any particular scene that you wish could've been included in "Moana"?

Osnat: To be honest, yes. We've done nine versions of the movie and there's a lot that have been removed overtime, like her whole family dynamic change and others. As we worked on the characters, I think the movie that we ended up with is exactly the right movie that we were trying to make from the beginning.

That said, there is some fabulous deleted scenes and we're trying to put them all on the DVDs because they're really fun. There are even deleted songs that are so good, but they no longer belong in this movie because the movie kind of knew itself and became clearer and more precise. But they're beautiful scenes, so hopefully they'll end up on the DVDs!

Auli'i, who are your favourite animal sidekicks from a Disney movie?

Auli'i: Well I love Mulan, I fell in love with Mulan since I was very little, so Mushu the Dragon, definitely. I think I really love those comic relief characters, like Hei Hei from our film as well, who is so funny, though he is not the smartest sidekick! And that's what Mushu brings as well, some comic relief.

Cinema Online, 17 November 2016

Related Movies:
Moana (24 Nov 2016)
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