Maui (Dwayne Johnson), a demigod, reviews his extraordinary past in the new teaser trailer for Moana — but the Disney movie’s title character (voiced by newcomer Auli’i Cravalho) is not impressed. “What’s a demigod gotta do?” Maui laments once he notices Moana’s bored reaction.
“She actually doesn’t trust him at first, but she does learn,” Moana co-director Ron Clements tells EW. “He was once a great, great hero to man, but in our story, he’s taken a fall and Moana is helping him restore himself to what he once was.”
The character of Maui is based on a real-life myth that Clements and co-director John Musker discovered while doing research for the film, which included spending a few weeks in the South Pacific. “We spent time with people who grew up on the islands to get a sense of the philosophy and the way people looked at life,” Clements says. “One of the takeaways we had was how critical the ocean is in their lives,” Musker adds. “It’s the center of so many of their lives, so we wanted to build a story that took that into account.”
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So they did: Moana follows a young girl sailing through the ocean to find a long-lost island and save her people with the help of Maui. The filmmaking duo — who previously helmed beloved Disney films like The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, and, more recently, The Princess and the Frog — decided to mostly rely on computer animation as opposed to their usual hand-drawn methods to bring the water to life.
“We still love hand-drawn animation very much, but for the depth and scope of this movie when we’re dealing with mythic islands that come to life and the ocean, digital animation really seemed appropriate for this story,” Clements says. But they didn’t totally ditch hand-drawn animation. For example, Maui’s lively tattoo from the teaser trailer was actually hand-drawn by Eric Goldberg, who’s most known for working on the Genie in Aladdin.
“We call the tattoo Mini Maui; it’s Maui’s little sidekick,” Clements says. “It acts as his own conscience, à la Jiminy Cricket,” Musker explains. “He doesn’t speak, but he has a relationship with Maui, and there’s humor and storytelling that wraps around him. It’s been really fun to wed the hand-drawn world with the CG world.”
Although the moving tattoo is the one that takes center stage, Maui has plenty more where that one came from. Clements and Musker learned that tattoos are a huge part of the South Pacific’s culture and thought it was important to include in the film.
“Maui’s a walking billboard of all his exploits,” Musker says. “As he recounts things he’s done, he can turn his body and literally give his backstory.” He laughs, “It’s on his back.”
See that walking billboard in the teaser — which also includes an original song titled “We Know the Way” by Opetaia Foa’i, Lion King composer Mark Mancina, and Hamilton’s Lin-Manuel Miranda — below. Moana arrives in theaters Nov. 23.