Disney continued to impress with their inclusive and exciting string of movies last year with the cinematic release of Moana, and now the film has hit DVD and Blu-ray, as well as digital download.
Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson plays powerful Demi God Maui in the film, and in this exclusive interview he talks about why he took the role, his favourite moments and more…
Moana is a fun-filled adventure set in the Pacific Islands. As an actor who grew up in Hawaii, was it important for you to work on a project that heavily features Polynesian culture?
The biggest reason I wanted to be a part of the movie was because it was an opportunity to showcase a culture that was very important to me. ‘Aloha Spirit’ is something that is very special; it’s very meaningful to us and our Polynesian culture. It’s intangible. When you get off the plane and your feet touch the ground there; energetically, it takes you to a different place. That’s ‘Aloha Spirit’. The opportunity that we had, as Polynesians, to bring to life a story of our Polynesian culture in this capacity with our great partners at Disney – and musically with the masters on this project – was a really special opportunity for us. This is a history-making movie and I am not saying that because I am a little biased. This truly showcases the Pacific Islands for the very first time on screen this way.
What specifically attracted you to the character of Maui?
As Polynesians, we grew up with stories of the great demigod of Maui. There are multiple iterations. He is a shape shifter. He is charismatic. He is larger than life. When you hear the mythology of Maui as kids, we were blown away by it. He is a fantastic character to play.
How similar are you to Maui?
Maui is very determined, and I have been known to be very determined. I hang my hat a lot on being determined in terms of the things that I want to accomplish. Maui is incredibly charismatic; I got a little bit of that, too. Maui has got a tremendous voice; I got a little bit of that. When Maui sings, the room stops and you watch the man sing and he commands it; I got a little bit of that. Maui is, just between us, incredibly good looking, right? Yeah, I got a little bit of that.
What is your favourite moment in the movie?
There was one part in the movie that really struck me, and that is when Maui finally decides to rip himself open and become vulnerable. He says, “All right, here is my truth. This is my truth; my truth is this happened to me and I still struggle with that today. That’s my truth.” I really appreciated that. It’s one thing when I am performing the lines in a studio and it’s another thing when you watch it materialized on screen – and that was an element that struck a chord with me because we are all that way; we’ve all got a thing that we struggle with and we just hope to get better.
The directors of Moana – Ron Clements and John Musker – have an incredible history at Walt Disney Animation Studios. They are responsible for Aladdin, The Little Mermaid, Hercules and many more animated classics. What was it like to work with such icons?
It was great to finally meet Ron and John because these guys are Disney OGs. By that, I mean they have been around a long time and they have had tremendous success with Aladdin and The Princess And The Frog, and all the amazing movies that they have done. For me, it was really cool to know that we had a project like this that was so special and important to all of us. Being half-black and half-Samoan, it was great to know that the project was in the hands of guys who take great care and time with everything.
What went through your mind when you met the directors for the first time?
When you meet them, you discover exactly how wonderful they are. Not only are they incredibly astute filmmakers, but they really took their time and helped me a lot by explaining the process for me. I loved working with these guys. They put in a lot of time and a lot of workload to understand the culture and the specifics that are important in the culture. I think they really made something special with Moana.
What was it like to work with the iconic songwriter Lin-Manuel Miranda for the musical number, You’re Welcome?
Look, this was an opportunity to challenge myself. Lin did his research and by the time I got the song, it was in my comfortable range. There are parts of the song which pushed me a little bit, which I appreciate because that’s what I needed. Honestly, I had such a great time. One of the best times I’ve ever had in my career was working on this project and certainly working on that song because we all love challenges. This was a challenge where the bar was set so incredibly high, historically – to sing in a Disney film.
What was it like to work with the newcomer Auli’i Cravalho, who voices Moana in the movie?
Auli’i did such a tremendous job. This girl was not in the business; not in Hollywood. We had an open casting call to find our Moana with thousands and thousands and thousands of people all over the world looking to make that dream come true – but she was found in Hawaii. Every once in a while, you are lucky in life if you are a part of something that is special and becomes historic. In this case, finding our Moana is all those things. It’s very special and historic, and the performance that she gave is a beautiful performance. It’s fantastic.
What do you hope Polynesian people will take away from Moana?
What I think is very resonant is the pride that they will have in the film. Anyone who knows [Creative Chief Officer of Walt Disney Animation Studios and Pixar Animation Studios] John Lasseter knows that he has mana in his soul and in his body. This was a very important project to him, which is why he sent the directors and the producer Osnat [Shurer] on a mission for the past five years to do all this research. That’s why I feel like the Polynesian people are going to be incredibly proud of the movie.
What about other audiences? What will they gain from watching Moana?
I think what’s going to touch upon all of us, regardless of where we’re at in the world – where we’re from, cultures, class, religion – is the voice inside. There’s so much noise that’s happening in our world, but there’s that little voice that you’ve always got to listen to; your gut, your intuition. You can do things, you can go beyond boundaries – but you have to trust that gut and instinct.
What other lessons do you hope audiences take away from watching the movie?
After watching Moana, I hope that people not only take away a better understanding of our culture, our tradition, our pride, our love, our joy, our determination, our mana, and our spirit – but I hope they take away the most important thing we all have, which is family. The power of family and the importance of family, and the importance of remembering that you can go out there and you can conquer the world – but don’t ever forget where you came from. Always acknowledge where you came from and always get back to where you came from. That’s just beautiful. Right now, I have this thing called ‘mana’. These goosebumps – this is mana and you feel the mana in the room. So that is what I hope that fans and movie going audiences around the world will take from seeing Moana.
Moana is available now on DVD, Blu-ray and digital download.