Disney originally planned to release the trailer for Moana earlier in the day yesterday (and actually did for a brief time before removing it), but decided to hold off until the evening out of respect for the horrific shooting in Orlando. The actual debut of the trailer coincided with a commercial during the Tony Awards, which were fantastic and a cathartic way to finish an emotional day, so we can finally dive in to this much-anticipated next offering from Disney Animation, due out in November 2016. Disney already has one animated smash hit this year with Zootopia, and the excitement around Moana could spell another hit for a studio that has been on a roll lately. (Seriously, with Wreck-It Ralph, Frozen, Big Hero 6, and Zootopia, this has been an excellent stretch for Disney Animation.) So take a look at the gorgeous trailer below and then read on for my thoughts and screencaps, and then tell me what you think!
This first teaser trailer doesn’t give us a big glimpse at Moana’s story, nor much of the title character herself, but it does give us a feel for the look and style of the film, as well as a healthy dose of Maui, the demi-god voiced by Dwayne Johnson, and a little taste of the music.
“Do you know who Maui is? Only the greatest demi-god in the Pacific Islands. With his magical fishhook he slowed down the sun, pulled islands out of the sea, battled monsters! And I should know, ‘cause I’m Maui.” Maui himself, Dwayne Johnson, tells us of his legendary status over traditionally animated images showing his great feats…
Only for the camera to zoom out as we realize we’ve actually been watching Maui’s living tattoos tell the story, threatening to upstage the real Maui until he gets them to calm down. I love the “tattoos with a mind of their own” idea, especially since they’re animated by Disney legend Eric Goldberg (who brought the Genie to life in Aladdin).
Maui shows off some of his moves and what he can do with his magical fishhook…
But Moana is decidedly not impressed, while Pua the pig just looks confused. “Nothing? Really? What’s a demi-god gotta do?” Ok, a few things here. First, this was one of two sequences shown at last year’s D23 Expo (we’ll get to the 2nd in a minute), and it was a hit. Second, Dwayne Johnson is perfectly cast for this film and this role. Most importantly is the fact that Johnson is of Samoan ancestry, an important step by Disney towards including the correct representation among the cast with regards to the culture depicted in the film. But also, Johnson has just the right level of charm and swagger to play a demi-god (and charm everyone while onstage at the Expo), but also a willingness to be self-depreciating as we’ve seen in many of his movies. For a wrestler he’s actually an excellent actor, particularly when it comes to comedy, and he has an understanding of how to subvert the expectations that go along with his image for the maximum amount of humor. Third, how adorable is Pua? Just look at that face!
The trailer continues with a look at our characters…
First up is Maui, whom we’ve already seen, obviously, and who is really working the eyebrows.
Then we get to see a bit more of Moana, who is both beautiful and fierce, throwing a harpoon like a badass. Though we don’t get to hear anything from newcomer Auli’i Cravalho, who will be voicing Moana.
We then get what is perhaps the most important information in the trailer, at least in terms of building excitement among the masses. Most people probably don’t know Opetaia Foa’i (of the band Te Vaka), or Mark Mancina, but they sure as hell know who Lin-Manuel Miranda is, especially after last night. Miranda is the hottest thing around at the moment, having written and currently starring in Hamilton, which won 11 Tony Awards last night, 3 of which went to him. Disney wisely jumped on the Miranda train early, presumably locking him up for Moana before Hamilton obsession really took off as well as signing him for the upcoming Mary Poppins sequel film alongside Emily Blunt. Miranda has showed immense songwriting talent between Hamilton and In the Heights, and collaborating with Opetaia Foa’i should allow them to capture the authenticity of Pacific Islands music. But don’t overlook Mancina, who arranged Elton John and Tim Rice’s songs for The Lion King, as well working on Tarzan and Brother Bear. He also composed the amazingly creative score for August Rush as well as creating one of my all-time favorite film soundtracks, Twister.
The song that plays in the trailer is “We Know the Way”, which was performed by Te Vaka at the D23 Expo, though it sounds like Miranda is one of the voices singing in the trailer. If I had to guess, with lyrics like “We are explorers reading every sign. We tell the stories of our elders in a neverending chain,” I would expect this to be the film’s first song. The Disney musical formula usually includes an intro song that helps set the film’s tone (think “Fathoms Below”, “Arabian Nights”, or “Frozen Heart”), and I would expect that trend to continue in Moana. Plus it’s too early to debut any of the bigger songs from the film, the ones that will be endlessly covered on YouTube. But I really appreciate that Disney no longer tries to hide it when their films are musicals. I was always bothered by the trailers for Tangled, but I think the popularity of the songs in Frozen has probably taken us past the point of trying to portray musicals as something else. Of course, Disney wants to make sure to highlight the Lin-Manuel Miranda connection, and who can blame them, but still it’s refreshing to see the music front and center. (Also, “We Know the Way” was fantastic at D23, and I can’t wait to see it as a part of the film.)
The next two shots are from an absolutely gorgeous sequence, the second that was shown at the Expo. In the scene, a very young Moana is on the beach interacting with the ocean, which is a living character in the film. The ocean offers her a seashell, and as she comes closer it starts to lure her down the sand and into the water, which slowly recedes and forms a wall around her, allowing her a look into its depths. The ocean clearly feels a connection to the young girl, who is only a couple years old in the scene, and it interacts with her, waving at her with watery tendrils and reaching out to mess up her hair. She watches the undersea life swim past her until someone calls her name from the shore and the ocean quickly picks her up and sets her back on the dry sand (fixing her hair before returning back to normal). I’m really curious about the relationship between the sea and the woman Moana becomes, and how the living ocean will tie into the story.
Among the new shots for the trailer we have this look at Moana’s family sailing together on a catamaran as dolphins swim alongside.
Maui also has the ability to transform into a raptor of some sort. Not entirely sure if this is a specific species of bird (though, like all movies featuring any sort of raptor, they used the sound of a red-tailed hawk), but given Maui’s magical powers it could be something unique.
We get the film’s title/logo, and then one look at another character from the film, Hei Hei, a rooster. Moana is directed by Ron Clements and John Musker, who also gave us The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, Hercules, and The Princess and the Frog, and are one of the many reasons I’m most excited for Moana. They’ve definitely proven they know how to tell an animated musical story, and I can’t wait to see what they can do with computer animation. And at the D23 Expo they hinted that Hei Hei was modeled after Musker and Pua the pig was modeled after Clements.
We’re still 5 months away from Moana’s release, and there’s still a lot we don’t know. We know that Moana will be on a quest for a fabled island, hoping to explore the sea the way her ancestors once did but which her people have abandoned. We know her father doesn’t approve, but she sets out on her own anyway after the death of her grandmother. We’ve only gotten a small taste of the songs, which surely will be one of the most talked about aspects of the film in the lead-up to its debut. And we still haven’t heard anything from our titular heroine. Still, I can’t wait to see more of Moana. There’s a huge amount of talent behind the film, from production to direction to music to acting, and it looks absolutely gorgeous. It’ll be hard to top Zootopia, which was fresh, modern, topical, and fun exploration of serious issues, but Moana looks different enough to stand out. Of course, comparisons to Frozen are bound to come eventually, but for now I’m just happy we’re getting a new animated hero of color, in a film with actors who are actually a part of the culture it represents. I’m sure Moana will be a lot of fun, with memorable music and characters as well as the trademark Disney heart, but representation and diversity are just as important.
What do you think? Did you like this first teaser trailer for Moana? Do you want to see more? What do you think of the visual style? Do you like the casting of Dwayne Johnson? How excited are you to hear songs from Lin-Manuel Miranda? Are you happy Eric Goldberg will be a part of the animation? Is it nice to finally get another film from Ron Clements and John Musker? Has it really been seven years since The Princess and the Frog? Did the trailer help cheer you up after a horrible day like it did for me? What do you want to see from the next trailer? Let me know in the comments!