“Know your mountain.” You’ll not know where you are going until you know where you’re coming from…
And so it is with Walt Disney Animation Studios. As I’ve remarked before (The Making of Disney’s Zootopia with Animator Darrin Butters), what we see on the screen in our 90 to 130 minutes as audience members is the culmination of years of extensive research, soul-searching, and MILEAGE. In the case of Zootopia, it was exploratory safari trips to Africa; for the making of Moana, it was deep-diving excursions to Polynesia.
It is this exquisite process- the plunge into these John Lasseter treasures- that enables each fan drink up every drop of what we are about to experience on the screen. On November 17th in New York City, it was Jessica Julius’s turn to plot the journey to the latest of Disney’s films, Moana. As Disney Creative Executive and shepherd of this project, Jessica had a hand in every stage of development. Along with Ron Clements and John Musker (directors of Moana), they continue the “culture of collaboration” that has come to be synonymous with the Disney artistic process. Over a five-year period, three trips to Polynesia (including the islands of Samoa, Fiji, Tahiti, Bora Bora, and New Zealand), they persevered to “find the heart” of the South Pacific. (I can’t be the only one who wants a gig with them!!)
Moana is a CG-animated tale of an island teenager (Auli’i Cravalho) who, born with the heart of an adventurer, sets sail to fulfill her destiny and save her people. She finds the demi-god Maui (Dwayne Johnson “The Rock”) who will help her find the lost Heart of Te Fiti.
This “wayfaring” is the impetus for Jessica’s latest book: The Art of Moana. In exploring the landscape, the oceans, the sounds (in addition to Tony winner Lin-Manuel Miranda and Grammy winner Mark Mancina, local Opetaia Foa’i, founder and lead vocal of the band Te Vaka, was slated to keep the score authentic and traditional), and most importantly, the islanders, the goal was to map an authentic Oceanic Story Trust. Jessica recants an early interview with a resident elder: “For years we have been swallowed by your culture, this one time, can you be swallowed by ours?”
|Two books authored by Jessica Julius.|
Though not meant to be a documentary, it is this attention to culture, legend, and the ocean that connects rather than divides these islands, that makes Moana believable and alive. In fact, because of the difficulty in animating an ocean’s currents, circulations, and waves, (not to mention all of Maui’s tattoos) this film contains the most number of special effects ever seen in a Disney movie!
Moana sails into a theater near you on November 23, but fully appreciating the Disney artist’s navigation to the film will make the journey SO much more compelling.
|Thank you Jessica!|
Get out there and put your stone on that mountain.