The names Ron Clements and John Musker will not be unfamiliar to fans of the classic Disney animated musicals of the nineties. The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, Hercules, these two gentlemen are responsible for some of Disney’s biggest, most memorable hits. This year, they’re back with another sure-to-be hit, Moana. It’s their first CG animated feature, but it lacks none of the hallmarks of their old hand drawn classics.
Screen Rant had a chance to talk with the duo at the press day for Moana, where we talked about the numerous easter eggs hidden throughout the film, the long research and development process, as well as the fantastic short film, Inner Workings, that will be playing in front of Moana when it hits theaters this Thanksgiving.
(This interview has been edited for length and clarity)
Disney-Pixar, they always have these Easter eggs sometimes in their films. Can you tell me any easter eggs that may have been in Moana?
John Musker: We can give you some hints to the Easter eggs, we cannot reveal them in their entirety.
Ron Clements: We can’t give them away, but if people wanna look for Easter eggs they are there, we will tell you that. There are many. For example, Olaf the snowman, from Frozen, is in the movie.
John Musker: He’s in there a few spots. You gotta find him, you gotta look hard for that one.
Ron Clements: It sounds weird to have a snowman in the Pacific Islands, but he’s there, along with Baymax.
John Musker: Baymax is in there.
Baymax is my favorite character.
John Musker: Baymax is in there. You gotta look. And Flounder, from Little Mermaid, is in there, but you gotta look.
I think I saw Flounder, and my girlfriend that I was with, she said she saw Flounder, and I thought maybe my mind was playing tricks on me, but maybe I did actually see him.
John Musker: I bet you didn’t. Just because it’s in kind of an obscure spot.
Ron Clements: Maybe. But he is in there. And Flash—
John Musker: Yeah, Flash, the very slow-talking sloth [from Zootopia] is in there, in a disguise of sorts. Those are a few.
John, you worked on the Inner Workings short for Moana—
John Musker: I did not.
Oh, you didn’t?
John Musker: Actually Leo [Matsuda] and Sean [Lurie] did that. Yeah, I worked on watching it, but that’s all I did.
Ron Clements: Yeah, we know those two guys, they’re great. We actually, we didn’t work on it but we actually were part of the group that okayed the short.
John Musker: Yeah, well maybe that way, maybe our names are in the credits, cause we saw it when it was pitched.
Ron Clements: Yeah, Leo pitched it, along with many, many other—that’s kind of how the shorts program works.
John Musker: I guess our names might be on it, yeah, but it really is like—we were part of a group when they were pitching ideas. And we loved Leo’s short idea, and it’s evolved somewhat from its original pitch, but the basic thing of using organs and bones and all that, that was in his original pitch, but it changed. We love his short, but yeah we can’t really speak to it too much. But we love it being attached to the movie. I think it’s a fantastic short.
I loved it, because I actually thought it played brilliantly with [Moana] especially with it being at the beach.
John Musker: Yeah it’s a beachy thing, but it’s really cartoony, and it’s music driven, and they both have hand drawn elements, so it’s a good match for this movie, yeah.
This movie was rumored to be like the next Frozen, because it had a strong females character, but it was almost in the exact opposite setting. Was that done intentionally?
Ron Clements: No, but the thing is, which is interesting, this movie started five years ago.
John Musker: Before Frozen was out.
Ron Clements: So that was two years before Frozen came out. So it was it’s own thing, really. It wasn’t certainly thought of—I don’t think we were conscious of saying, “hey, there’s a movie in the snow, so we’ll do one with the ocean.”
John Musker: But I think we thought the setting was very inviting, that was part of the appeal of the setting. You know, people go to vacations on those islands because of that appeal. And we joke around a little bit—like, Alfred Hitchcock, when he did movies in his sixties and stuff like that, all his movies were set on the Riviera. It’s like, you like these locales, “okay we’re gonna do a research trip,” which we did, five years ago. And it’s kinda more fun to go to Tahiti than it is to—Rich Moore [Wreck-It Ralph director] always jokes, “I got to go to an arcade in Pacoima and you guys go to the Pacific Islands.” But the appeal of that landscape was part of the draw for this movie. But it wasn’t so much, “hey, Frozen’s gonna be cold, we’re gonna do hot.” It wasn’t that, really.
Obviously Maui had special powers, Elsa also had special powers. We’re starting to see a lot more Disney characters with these special powers. Is that something that we can see progressing into the future with the Disney-Pixar stuff?
Ron Clements: There again I think that five years ago this started—it was really John’s idea to do a movie set in the world of the Pacific Islands. And then, after he looked at the world first, then he started reading the mythology, and Maui emerged. And we, like most people, think of Maui as an island in Hawaii, but that island is named after a real demigod whose legends have been told for years and years throughout the Islands. And a lot of those qualities, that’s there in the myth. He’s a shapeshifter, he has a magical fish hook like Thor’s hammer that he can pull up islands with, he’s got really cool tattoos. He’s kind of a superhero, a folk hero, and I think it came from just think that would be a really fun thing to do in animation.
John Musker: And in all our films, you know, we’ve been drawn to elements of fantasy. And I think that’s gonna continue at Disney. If you talk about big trends at Disney, these movies generally are generated by directors or directorial teams pitching ideas to John Lasseter. There isn’t really quite an über, “this is the whole way the studio’s gonna move.” It’ll follow the tastes of both the directors and John. But I think fantasy, and folktales, and world cultures I believe are gonna continue to be a part of the mix just because they’re such a rich source of storytelling.
Ron Clements: And we like films that have musical elements and songs and things like that. And I think there’ll be films that are like that.
John Musker: Yeah, we’re big fans of music in terms of storytelling device.
Moana’s grandmother had the stingray as her symbol, her tattoo. So what do you think Moana’s tattoo would be, and what would you guys choose as your tattoo?
John Musker: Okay, interesting.
Ron Clements: I mean, in terms of the animal totems, they tend to be aquatic.
John Musker: Marine animals, generally. Some kind of sleek fish, I think, for Moana. I don’t know exactly what type of fish might be the—the humahumanukanukaapuaa, do you know that one in Hawaii? It’s like the longest name ever. Humahumanukanukaapuaa, maybe that one. If you can find it, WIkipedia that, but I think maybe that. As far as our own animal totems, they don’t have to be aquatic. I think I’d wanna come back as a tiger, actually. I’ve always liked tigers. I think that’s me. You might be a dog.
Ron Clements: A basset hound.
John Musker: Yeah I think a basset hound’s in his future somehow.
Ron Clements: I mean, I have basset hounds. I have four now, I’ve had more in the past, and I relate to them because physically we’re similar, in that they have very short legs and kind of long torsos, and I do as well.
John Musker: And if they put food in front of them, or him.
Ron Clements: I have to eat it.
John Musker: And he eats as if the other dogs are gonna take his food. It’s like, “these are people, they’re not gonna take anything off your plate!”
Ron Clements: But it’s my dogs. But they will.
John Musker: But that’s you, you don’t need to worry about it.
Ron Clements: It’s my dogs.
John Musker: The dogs will take the food off your plate.
Ron Clements: They will take the food off my plate, I have to eat fast cause they want it.