Moana: New Disney Film Directors Discuss Studio’s Renaissance

The Disney film about a Polynesian princess, Moana, came out in theaters Nov. 23 to stellar box office reception. In one day the movie garnered $15.7 million, beating out the reception of Frozen.

The film covers the story of Moana, who sails out into the ocean to save the Polynesians, before encountering the demigod Maui. The film has received positive reviews, praising it for its adventure and character.

It’s expected to rake in at least $90 million throughout its first weekend, a solid success for directors Ron Clements and John Musker, although it is not the first the two have made together.

Moana New Disney Hit Box Office Smash
[Image by Invision/AP Images]

Clements and Musker were the directors behind popular Disney films The Great Mouse Detective and A Little Mermaid, and have been credited with kicking off Disney’s renaissance era, during which major hits like Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, The Lion King and Mulan, among other popular films, were released.

In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, the directors discussed their experiences and roles in the animation industry, as well as the future they see for the field—although that future was not always guaranteed.

“There have been at least two periods since I’ve been at Disney, which will have been 43 years in January, where animation almost went away,” Clements said.

“In the ’80s, this corporate raider…g tried to buy Disney and would have dismantled it and destroyed the company. After that … there was a question of, what are we going to do with this?”

Moana released in theatresa
[Image by Invision/AP Images]

Although the company had made its success in the animation industry, Clements pointed out that during periods of financial struggle, an unsuccessful animated film was a bad sign.

The Black Cauldron was expensive and didn’t do well, and The Care Bears Movie was very, very inexpensive but did do well, so there was a real crisis period where you were feeling that there might not be a future for this place.”

But Clements added that there had been an earlier almost-coup for the company after Walt Disney’s death in 1966. “There was a group of people that had worked closely with him who were now all getting older, and there was a feeling that they might just kind of phase out animation,” Clements said.

“The only thing that changed that was that the original Jungle Book was a huge success. It’s what made them start thinking, ‘Maybe we should keep this going.’ And that’s when they got a mindset to bring younger people in and train them.”

Despite the company’s rocky and often alarming financial situation from the 70s to today, that feature of training new artists remains an integral part of Disney and all animation fields today, Clements said.

“Animation is a craft that you learn in a master-apprentice way… It’s a craft that’s passed on. You couldn’t learn some of it otherwise, without the one-on-one thing with someone who had done it for 20 or 30 years. Their experience guides you. Now, to a certain extent, we’re passing the torch to these other younger people,” he said.

Musker said he’s observed the new generation of artists firsthand, many of whom entered the field after being inspired by his and Clement’s work.

“When people say they got into animation because they saw Little Mermaid, that’s always nice to hear. But moreover, I see there’s a ton of talent here. Young people everywhere. If animation continues to be financially and creatively successful and something the public embraces, I foresee wonderful films coming out, and we won’t have anything to do with it in the future, but they will continue,” he said.

And the future doesn’t have to be the animation of his age, he added.

“[Walt Disney] was always looking at the next technological hurdle. Every one of his movies was looking for some way forward. Whether that was going from black and white to color, or the multiplane camera. I just feel that Walt Disney, if he saw CG animation, would have embraced it as a way of using technology to get an immersive experience for an audience. That’s what he was always really about.”

[Featured Image By Invision/AP Images]