Special thanks to Disney for the magical trip to Los Angeles to cover the World Premiere of Moana and its press events.
Sometimes a production company goes all-in on an idea they think is great, an idea that will introduce one culture to another, an idea that they foresee as a way to transcend barriers. All too often, we hear about those ideas blowing up and cultures being portrayed in untrue ways, or in ways that only allow the viewer to see slivers of an expansive culture with many nuances.
Disney’s Moana‘s directors, Ron Clements and John Musker, and Producer Osnat Shurer knew this to be true and they did everything they could to keep that from happening to their beautiful film. From the get-go, they spent a lot of time in Samoa, Fiji, and other Polynesian islands talking to master tattooers, village chiefs, high chiefs, traditional musicians, artists, and a litany of other people with direct ties to the culture. They wanted to DO this thing, and DO it right.
They didn’t put a tattoo on a person in the film without first consulting the master tattoo artist. They didn’t put in a sound without first hearing it themselves on a Polynesian island. They saw lots of pigs and roosters walking around in the various villages, and so they included that in the movie. They heard the tale of Maui and first thought they would make the movie about him, a demigod with a beautiful mane of hair like other Samoan men. They made their characters with the same build as Polynesian people have in real life. Everything first passed through the hands of someone on their Oceanic Trust before it was put in the movie, including the music.
As you know, Lin-Manuel Miranda wrote many of the songs for Moana. And you probably also know that he’s not Polynesian at all, he’s actually Puerto Rican, so the choice to use him for the music doesn’t necessarily line up with everything I’ve told you, but there’s a catch. Lin spent lots of time collaborating with Opetaia Foa’i who is a traditional Samoan musician from the group Te Vaka, and it is his mission on this Earth to show that the Polynesian culture isn’t dying, and to bring new life to the culture. Here are his thoughts on whether or not the Polynesian people are happy with Moana, but first – a link to buy your own copy of the soundtrack.
How did you feel about the mix of modern music and cultural music for the feel of Moana?
I sort of trusted that Mark and Chris Montan and Tom, I trusted that they would make those decisions, you know. And I didn’t compromise from my cultural background either. You know, I’ve got many things that didn’t get onto the movie and, they would say, ‘Oh that was good but we don’t want to scare the children.’ So after a while, I got the message because I’m very, very passionate about the chance of the olden pre-Missionary Pacific who didn’t have melodies but just chants and beats and I love that.
What was it like having other members of Te Vaka being involved in Moana
I quickly discovered that my voice trying to, when I had an idea with a girl singing, it didn’t work so luckily, I have a daughter, Olivia, her voice is in the opening animation, so I used her a lot. She’s been doing a lot of demos. And my two sons, they are Percussionists. They’re very, very good, yeah. I used to be better than them
How did your Culture come into play when writing music for Moana?
Well, you know, I was born in Western Samoa in a thatched hut. You know, we’re talking about you know, just the thatched hut with no walls, so to find myself here is an incredible journey. My jaw’s been open for quite some time, you know when they restrained me. And I couldn’t believe, I call it an aesthetic Heaven, that people can be around the table and they can talk about anything they like and there’s no one running anybody down, it’s incredible. So all that’s new to me. In my culture, music is like breathing air. I can never understand why I was always trying to write songs or do something musically, so it was a hard journey for me to go get a real job.
What’s next for you past that line where the sky meets the sea?
I’m happy where I am now. Just to get here, you know. I was trying to explain to you my journey, it was really to promote my culture and you know, I’ve traveled the world and people got sick of me talking about these people that are the best Navigators, best Sailors in the world, everywhere. And to be honest, I thought I’d reached the end of my run, and I was ready to, you could say, hang up my horse unless the opportunity came up. So it’s just extended it a little bit more.
What is your message for young people and other artists in listening to this soundtrack?
The journey that I made coming from a village to this big City, my roots were firmly entrenched, so there was no way you could shake it, no matter how much I try and check, it’s all in there. So this movie for me, as much as I want other cultures to be really interested in what the culture is all about, the biggest buzz for me is for my own people because a lot of them were brought up in the cities.
And you know, they go, ‘My father told that I’m connected but they don’t, until you put your feet on that ground,’ so I’m hoping that this will open the key for them to go, ‘Oh I feel pride,’ and ‘I’m gonna go back and check it out.’
How do you REALLY feel about Moana as a whole, and what would your ancestors say?
Beautiful. You know, animation, everything. I was saying, those guys, the animation, the story, everything was just incredible. I could say this, you know. I could say this daringly. My ancestors would be proud of this movie. Chants, lot of drums and of telling of the stories of ancient Polynesia. Yeah, those are the 3 elements that I always push. And probably if you’ve seen the movie, you get a lot of ‘Mmmm,’ a lot of chants, I think I try to put in there. And you hear a lot of drums, percussions, and all those key things.
So there you have it, right from the mouth of the Polynesian man who wrote the soundtrack in conjunction with Lin-Manuel Miranda.
Make sure you SHARE This article with your friends to let them know that Moana is an amazing film with deep cultural roots, and that they’re missing out by not seeing it. It’s out in movie theaters NOW!
From Walt Disney Animation Studios comes Moana, a sweeping, CG-animated feature film about an adventurous teenager who sails out on a daring mission to save her people. 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, and along the way, Moana fulfills the ancient quest of her ancestors and discovers the one thing she’s always sought: her own identity. Directed by the renowned filmmaking team of Ron Clements and John Musker (The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, The Princess & the Frog) and produced by Osnat Shurer (Lifted, One Man Band), Moana sails into U.S. theaters on Nov. 23, 2016.
Thanks to Louise Bishop from MomStart for the pictures!