Disney Animation's 'Moana' Looks And Sounds Absolutely Gorgeous [D23 Expo 2015]

Walt Disney Animation Studios has the South Pacific set adventure Moana, directed by Ron Clements and John Musker, set for release for the holiday season in 2016.

Some announcements about the forthcoming project at the D23 Expo were just made, including some new details on the story and music, as well new information on the characters Moana and Maui, the latter being a demigod voiced by Dwayne Johnson, who sounds almost like a South Pacific version of Thor.

The first footage from the movie was shown along with some proof of concept clips, and one of the snippets of the movie actually made Dwayne Johnson cry. This sounds like it's going to be a lovely, touching tale from Disney. Find out what we learned at the Moana D23 panel after the jump!


The Story

Moana is the next film from the directing team of Ron Clements and John Musker, who you know from the Disney animated classics The Little Mermaid, The Princess and the Frog, and Aladdin. The film was originally aimed at a 2018 release, but got bumped up two years which might be a vote of confidence.  Here is the official synopsis for the animated feature:

Moana introduces a spirited teenager who sails out on a daring mission to fulfill her ancestors' unfinished quest. She meets the once-mighty demi-god Maui (voice of Dwayne Johnson), and together, they traverse the open ocean on an action-packed voyage.

Previously we heard this about the story with a few more details:

The South Pacific-set Moana follows the title navigator as she sets sail in search of a fabled island. During her journey she teams up with the legendary demi-god Maui to traverse the open ocean on a voyage where they will encounter enormous sea creatures, breathtaking underworlds and ancient folklore.

moana logo

At the panel it was revealed that they have many South Pacific experts contributing and consulting on every level, which is helpful since the story takes place about 2,000 years ago. Basically, about 3,000 years ago, all voyages across the South Pacific stopped, and then 1,000 years later they started up again. The mysterious reason these voyages stopped for so long is at the center of the story, which follows a young Hawaiian woman.

Moana at d23expo

Our Main Character, Moana

Moana is the daughter of her people's chief Tui, and despite her desire to go voyaging into the sea, her father won't let her. She has this fire burning in her to voyage out to sea thanks to the tales that her grandmother has told her about a demigod named Maui (Johnson), as well as the voyages of the past. But we'll get to Maui a little later.


The adventure is set in motion after Moana's grandmother dies (the filmmakers said, "I'm sorry, this is a Disney movie"), inspiring her to voyage out past her homeland's reef for the first time with her trusty pet pig Pua coming along for the ride. Oh, and there's a crabby rooster named Hei Hei who has stowed away on the ship who should make for some amusing moments.

Moana hopes to find the long lost island she's heard about in stories in order to connect with her heritage. On this journey she'll have to battle bad monsters of the deep and confront a vengeful land spirit, who will be visualized with volcanic black skin and lava hair. A very brief proof of concept clip showed the lava oozing out of the land spirit, erupting with its emotions.

Maui, the Demigod

But thankfully, Moana won't be alone on this journey, because she encounters the demigod Maui. Dwayne Johnson was on hand to talk about his own character, talking about how he's strong and handsome, but he has some issues after being born human but raised by gods. He finds himself stuck in the middle, trying to please both sides. And since this is a Disney movie, both he and Moana have something to learn from each other.

Like Johnson himself, Maui is covered in tattoos. But Maui's tattoos are animated and move on his skin, and he can also shapeshift into birds and other animals. In addition, he also carries with him a gigantic and mighty fish hook, not unlike the  reliable hammer Mjolnir carried by Thor.

Johnson spoke about how wonderful it is to be a part of the Disney family now, even getting a bit emotional as he talked about his deep connection to the source material. After all, Johnson is half-Samoan and half-black, so for him to be a part of a true South Pacific tale at Disney is just a dream come true.

The relationship Maui develops with Moana should be an interesting one, but at first the Hawaiian girl and her pig aren't impressed in a clip that shows him explaining his animated tattoos. Maui reacts incredulously to their blank unimpressed stares, "Nothing? What does a demigod gotta do?"


The Friendly Ocean

Maui isn't the only one Moana has a connection with, either. One of the things the filmmakers learned when researching this movie is that these people had a very deep connection to the ocean, looking at the body of water as if they were a friend or person. And they illustrate this in the film quite literally.

A proof of concept clip showed a very young, baby Moana meeting the ocean for the first time. As she's walking on the beach, the water comes into the shore, and then divides to show seashells hidden on the ocean floor for her to collect. Moana walks deeper into the ocean, the water parting for her to move through safely, allowing a glimpse into the water and its inhabitants like in an aquarium.

And then we see the water form into an arm and touch her gently. Suddenly her father calls her back, and the ocean picks her up and carries her to shore of a wave. Her bond with the ocean is strong, and as a teenage girl, she still has the seashell she found as a baby, showing that she still has strong ties to this old friend.

All of this is set to the beautiful music, which was announced at D23 to be composed by Tony-winner Lin-Manuel Miranda (of Broadway's Hamilton and In the Heights), Grammy-winner Mark Mancina (Tarzan, The Lion King) and Te Vaka founder and lead singer Opetaia Foa'i.

The reaction to the footage and proof of concept clips shown at D23 was really positive, especially the final clip showing Moana's friendship with the ocean. Just in these short clips the audience easily connected with the characters and the story, and this seems like it could be a Disney classic in the making.

Moana will hit theaters on November 23rd, 2016.Moana