It’s safe to say that though the New Year isn’t even a week old yet, Disney is going to have a wonderful year at box offices everywhere. As 2015 came to a close, the studio's acquisition of the Star Wars franchise has proved (and will undoubtedly continue to prove) that the $4 billion purchase was a wise one. From there on, Disney’s prospects only grow, with anticipated releases like Zootopia, The Jungle Book, Captain America: Civil War and Finding Dory on their way.
A plentiful line up to be sure, but these films still only make up a small and more familiar sample of everything that Disney has in store for 2016. While Disney has always had a reputation for releasing groundbreaking, family-oriented animated films, 2016 will see two releases on that front – a feat not attempted since 2002 for the company’s animation studios - Zootopia and the musical adventure comedy Moana.
In Moana, Dwayne Johnson (aka The Rock) takes on the role of a legendary demi-god known as Maui – and, yes it’s the same Maui that the gorgeous Hawaiian island is technically named after. There isn’t a lot of information about the film just yet, but a new featurette has popped up and, at the very least, it offers us a brief plot breakdown as well as our first look at Dwayne Johnson as an animated Polynesian demi-god.
The story of Moana is set amongst the ancient South Pacific islands at a time when a young girl named Moana (Auli'i Cravalho) decides to undertake a sea journey to prove herself a master wayfinder as her ancestors once were. As with any animated Disney feature, Moana will be supported by a wingman, and this is where Dwayne Johnson’s character Maui steps in. In addition to Maui, Moana will also be accompanied on her journey by a pig named Pua and a chicken named Hei Hei.
Of course, this being a traditional animated Disney musical, there will be no shortage of singing. In case you’re wondering, Dwayne Johnson will indeed be belting out a number or two for us in this respect – something very new for the professional wrestler turned actor. Johnson has also previously spoken about his link to the Samoan culture depicted in the film:
"Samoa is in my blood. And to tell a story inspired by the South Pacific is truly a great honor."
It is not often that the Samoan culture has been a source for a Hollywood project and it’s even more rare for the culture to be delivered via animation. Disney has had trouble in the past with reactions to some of their character and cultural depictions, but this time around there seems to be a more authentic heart at the centre of the project, with Polynesian input in everything from the music, to the script, to the acting itself.
Disney has always been capable of creating touching and entertaining stories for young and old alike. With the arrival of Moana, even a fictional story involving a truly fascinating culture can be a welcome step in the right direction.
Moana arrives in U.S. theatres on November 23rd, 2016.