Disney’s latest CG-animated feature film, Moana, opening in theaters November 23, transports audiences to the Polynesian island of Montinui, where teenage Moana (voice of Auli”i Cravalho) lives with her family. As the daughter of the over-protective chief, Moana is expected to stay on the island. But when the island’s resources become diseased and depleted, Moana sets off to find the demigod, Maui (voice of Dwayne Johnson). She hopes Maui will return a small green stone to its rightful owner—the Heart of Ti Fiti—thus saving the island and her people.
During her journey through the ocean to find Maui, Moana encounters treacherous storms, a greedy 50-foot crab in the realm of monsters, and other obstacles that make the quest seem nearly impossible. But the ocean guides her along the way and Maui teaches Moana to be a skilled Wayfinder, just as her ancestors had been. Through the journey, Moana perseveres to discover her purpose.
“It’s a movie about identity,” says David G. Derrick, Jr., story artist for the film, who is responsible for creating the film’s storyboard before animation begins. “As a dad of daughters, it was important for me that Moana be defined through her relationship with her family, and not through a romance.”
Derrick, who came to Disney specifically to work on Moana, spent time reconnecting with his own Samoan heritage as research for the film. He was committed to creating something that the Polynesian people could be proud of. “As artists, you can only write and draw what you know, so nothing can replace that first-hand experience,” he says.
Co-head of animation Hyrum Osmond agrees. “You have to observe the people, and you have to live it,” he says. And Osmond lives it in other ways too—he brought in his own daughter for reference when creating animation for young Moana.
As a side note, Osmond loves “Easter eggs”—those moments when characters from past Disney movies appear. “About half way through production, I called the animation crew together and said ‘we don’t have enough Easter eggs!”” (So, they put more in. Watch for them!)
Stay until the end of the credits if you can—there’s a small surprise that Osmond got to animate himself. It’s a little nod to one of the movies that inspired him to pursue a career in animation in the first place—The Little Mermaid.