D23 Expo: Disney’s Moana brings Hawaiian culture and Dwayne Johnson into the mix


One of the highlights for D23 Expo this weekend was the Walt Disney Animation Studios and Pixar presentation. It featured chief creative officer of Walt Disney and Pixar Animation Studios John Lasseter presenting different upcoming Walt Disney Animation Studios films (Moana, Zootopia, Gigantic) and Pixar films (The Good Dinosaur, Finding Dory, Toy Story 4, Coco). Of all the films, the best presentation had to be Moana. We had Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson show up and pumping the crowd, Hawaiian band Te Vaka performing, hula dancers and early test footage from the upcoming movie.

“Moana” introduces a spirited teenager who sails out on a daring mission to fulfill her ancestors’ unfinished quest. She meets the once-mighty demi-god Maui (voice of Dwayne Johnson), and together, they traverse the open ocean on an action-packed voyage.

At the start of the presentation, directors John Muster and Ron Clements (The Little Mermaid, Aladdin) and producer Osnat Shurer (Pixar shorts’ “One Man Band,” “Boundin”) came to share the movie’s premise, early test footage, and more.

Image by Disney

We were shown some early test footage including Maui, voiced by Dwayne Johnson, trying to impress Moana of his demi-god status.

Image by Disney

We also saw a very sweet scene involving young Moana and the ocean. She is enamored by the ocean water near the shore, and as she gets closer, the water is pushed back so that she can walk further into the ocean. It’s very gentle and loving with her, but it doesn’t want to be seen interacting with her by other people. The ocean is a character that comes to life, and it will help the young princess on her journey. As for the visuals, I have to say that it’s one of the best CG-animated beaches I’ve seen ever. (I’m not sure if I can remember a remarkable beach scene in an animated movie.)

Image by Disney

There was also a rough clip featuring a volcanic creature. I wonder if it’s going to act as a mentor to Moana, kind of like how Grandmother Willow gave Pocahontas advice.


The music is just as important as the animation, and the filmmakers have decided to hire different artists like Lin-Manuel Miranda (Broadway’s Hamilton), Mark Mancina (Speed, Tarzan, The Lion King), and Opetaia Foa’i (founder and lead singer of Te Vaka). At the end of the presentation, we were treated with a performance by Te Vaka and a bunch of hula and muscle dancers for the song, “Moana.”

moana performance photo jesse grant d23 expo 3
Image by Disney

Moana sails into theaters on November 23, 2016.

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John 'Spartan' Nguyen
John 'Spartan' Nguyen 10179 posts

Assassin, scoundrel, head honcho.