By Lagi Keresoma
APIA, SAMOA – THURSDAY 15 DECEMBER 2016: The Polynesian/Pacific based animated feature movie Moana has not only united the Pacific in its making, but is now the gateway for more Pacific based movies for Disneyland in the future.
This was the feedback not only from the movies directors Ron Clements and John Musker, but also the Hawaiian born star of the movie Ms. Auli’i Gravalho, who is the voice of Moana.
Speaking at the special screening of the movie in Apia last night, the crew talked about the making of the movie and also looking at possibilities of more future work in the Pacific.
Clements said there have been a lot of European animated fairytale films at Disney, but there are also other parts of the world with more “interesting, fascinating and wonderful folktales and mythologies.”
He said their boss at Disney has open up more parts of the world for them to explore, and with Moana at the top of all animated movies at the moment, the Pacific is certainly on the list of prospects for more future projects.
“I think there will be more of that in the future,” said Clement.
“The way we go into what we call ‘developing’ about what’s next,” said Producer Shurer. “The idea has to bubble up from inside.”
Your culture has consumed us for many years
The makers of Moana were much taken five years ago, while traveling the Pacific looking for film ideas when a woman in Tahiti told them that “English culture has consumed our way of life for so long.” And she said something that the contrary must be coming soon.
The producers have kept that woman’s quote in their story line in promoting the film.
Having made animated versions of stories from the Arabian nights, many believe the Pacific and Polynesia remains the last region for cultural and creative exploitation, but not for long.
Moana the film is that manifestation bringing the stories, the mythologies, the ocean and seas, the green and lush vegetation, colour, sounds, beats and music, the faces and more for a global audience.
“I would like to see more Pacific films, and Moana is a wonderful gateway, and wonderful breaker of many films,” said Auli’i Gravalho, now 16 and started with the movie project when 14 years old.
She said Disney films are reflected by their time set and at this point and time, we need more cultural representation.
The same sentiment was voiced by the National University of Samoa (NUS) anthropologists Dionne Fonoti, whose team was responsible for bringing the Moana crew to Samoa.
The idea of telling and filming Pacific stories through Disney movies “is not farfetched”
She said it is possible and that it can be accomplished, especially with the establishment of the Samoa film industry. “We just need to push it to the right direction.”
Fonoti and her team worked closely with the Moana team in researching Moana and Maui, and have contributed in bringing the legend alive.
Maui bigger than life, not oversized or unhealthy
Criticisms from some Polynesians have been directed at the directors and producer of the movie for the way Maui, the demigod of the wind and sea was portrayed in the film.
“He is oversized, too short and looks overweight and unhealthy,” were some of the feedback.
However, Director Clements and team had something else in mind. Clement said they saw the criticism when the images of Maui were posted for promotion long before the movie came out.
“When we read the description of Maui, we feel that Maui was pan-Pacific that existed in Pacific legends,” said Clements.
He said there were different descriptions of Maui from being “short, ugly, handsome and big, so we thought we’ll go for the broad power way to represent him.”
He said Maui was a “bigger than life character, he can pull up islands and our intention, was to make him bigger than life.”
“We want to have his tattoo tell the story because his story was epic because of the bigger than life things that he did,” said Clements.
Before the movie was made, the team travelled the Pacific learning and researching Polynesian and Pacific culture and the cultural significance of characters like Maui.
“Our connection to the Pacific islands that God created really sustained the whole process,” said Shurer.
“We revisit the culture and worked with the likes of Fonoti, Suluape the tattooist, Opetaia and the Tevaka crew.”
Gravalho said that the directors had to change Maui’s costume, as the first one had some negative influence on the people, but did not elaborate on it.
She said Disney apologized and changed the costume to what Maui wore throughout the movie.
She said the significance of that incident was that the directors listened and took note of what the public was saying.