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Before a packed and rowdy house at Annecy’s spacious Bonlieu theater, Walt Disney Animation Studios previewed the first scenes of its upcoming oceanic epic, Moana, which stars Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson and is slated for release in late November.
Speaking about the four-year adventure that has taken them from a fact-finding tour of the Pacific islands to a feature that has involved nearly 1,000 artists, musicians and technicians, directors Ron Clements and John Musker commented footage that wowed an audience familiar with the team behind such modern Disney classics as Aladdin and The Little Mermaid.
The film tells the story of the teenage girl Moana (voiced by Auli’i Cravalho) — pronounced ‘Mo-Anna,’ which means “ocean” in local dialect — living in the South Pacific some 2,000 years ago, at a time when her people, who once were great navigators, have stopped sailing for good. Determined to push past all boundaries, she sets out to find the demi-god Maui (Johnson). Together they will try to undo the curse that has kept their civilization landlocked for so long.
Sequences screened at Annecy, some of which were nearly complete and others at storyboard or early animation stages, included an opening that explains the myth behind Moana’s predicament and a scene where she uncovers the secret of her tribe. Another beautifully rendered sequence shows an infant Moana stepping into the sea for the first time, with the Disney team doing wonders to make the ocean a character in and of itself. (Water has always been one of the toughest things to animate, and its clear that Clements and Musker went, um, overboard to make the Pacific come alive.)
An action scene involving a Minion-like tribe of coconut pirates was described by the filmmakers as “Disney meets Fury Road,” while a preview of one of several musical numbers underscored a work that will most likely appeal to the Mouse House’s key 10-and-under demographic — although the fact that Hamilton’s Lin-Manuel Miranda is contributing to the score may broaden the movie’s horizons to wider audiences.
Slated for release just before Thanksgiving, Moana will surely be Disney Animation’s biggest bet for the upcoming holiday season.
The presentation was preceded by a hilarious short, Inner Workings, which is sort of like Inside Out told from the perspective of the body’s vital organs. Its talented young director, Leo Matsuda, received ecstatic applause and will likely be heard from again.
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