Moana

‘Moana’ Now Out In Store: How Animators Were Inspired By Other Disney Cartoons

Walt Disney Picture’s 56th animated movie, Moana, is now available on both Blu-ray and DVD and each come with many special features depending on which version of the film you purchase, including short films about the making of the feature, deleted scenes, music videos, and audio commentary.

Moana is the tale of a brave and adventurous teenager (voiced by Auliʻi Cravalho) who feels led to leave the safety of her island to go on a crazy journey to save her people with the help of demigod Maui (Dwayne Johnson). While an original film based on Hawaiian legends and stories, various scenes of the movie were inspired in part by previous Disney films.

Maui from "Moana."
Maui from “Moana.” [Image by Walt Disney Pictures”

Maui’s body is covered with tattoos which were inspired by Marquesan tattoos from French Polynesia, says production designer Ian Gooding. “And although that part of the world had not yet been populated at the time Moana is set, it’s possible to theorize that Maui is a demigod—he’s immortal—maybe he provided the inspiration.”

One of Maui’s tattoos, nicknamed “Mini Maui,” is considered to be a two-dimensional representation of Maui and serves as his conscience much like Jiminy Cricket served as the conscience for the puppet who wanted to become a boy in Pinocchio. “It’s alive; it’s really cool,” says Johnson. “He’s called ‘Mini Maui’ and he’s a small version of Big Maui. He’s there to stop Maui from doing something that he might later regret.”

Mini Maui is also a nod back to traditional hand-drawn animation and was created by Eric Goldberg who had worked on Aladdin. “Eric Goldberg, who’s one of the world’s greatest hand-drawn animators, served as animation supervisor, helping to create these vignettes that play out like billboards on Maui’s chest,” continues director John Musker. “Logically, all tattoos are hand-drawn, so it made sense to use that medium. So all of the animation for Mini Maui is done traditionally on paper, allowing a more stylized look; it’s very graphic…And then that animation was placed on the 3D character. It was a wonderful marriage of hand-drawn and CG animation.”

Most of the voice talent used in Moana are new to animation with one major exception. Alan Tudyk (who voices the crazy rooster Heihei) has voiced numerous Disney cartoon characters before including King Candy in Wreck-It Ralph, Alister Krei in Big Hero 6, and most recently Duke Weaselton in Zootopia, playing off his role of Duke Weselton from Frozen.

Moana and the Ocean
Even the ocean featured in “Moana” was considered a character and was inspired by another film. [Image by Walt Disney Pictures]

The ocean itself was considered a character in Moana and the creative process creating the look was borrowed from Rapunzel’s hair in Tangled.


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Lyricist and composer Lin-Manuel Miranda says that when he was 9 years old, he was “profoundly” inspired by The Little Mermaid and even named his firstborn son Sebastian (although Disney cannot confirm that the name was actually inspired by the crab in the film). Years later, he got a chance to work with John Musker and Ron Clements who worked on the mermaid movie. The song “Shiny” sung by Tamatoa the 50-foot crab was inspired by some of Disney’s greatest villains.

Tamatoa from "Moana"
Tamatoa’s theme song was inspired by other Disney villains. [Image by Walt Disney Pictures]

“Disney has some great villains like Jafar, Scar, Cruella and Ursula,” says Miranda. “Tamatoa is mean and ostentatious, so we really wanted to create the anti-lesson of the movie. If Moana’s journey is listening to her inner voice, Tamatoa is there to say, ‘It doesn’t matter. Who cares? It’s really about how you look.’ He’s from the deepest, darkest part of the sea and feels his armor is important. You got to be shiny.”

The minds and hands behind Moana also revealed their inspirations for their craft. Eric Goldberg says that it was Dumbo that inspired him to become an animator. For John Musker, it was Sleeping Beauty and Pinocchio.

[Featured Image by Walt Disney Pictures]

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