From Pixar's influence and input to the film's songwriting team and original drafts of the story, we take a look at 10 things you may not know about Disney's animated feature.
Credit: Disney

In writing about Moana, you learn a lot. You learn that a Disney princess technically isn't a princess until the end of a movie (in Moana, she's a "chief's daughter"). You learn that no matter what lengths a director will go to be culturally sensitive, things in other departments can still backfire (see: the ill-fated Maui Halloween costume). Most interestingly, you hear all sorts of stories about what could and couldn't have been — which, in the case of Moana, are stories that are almost as fascinating as the dazzling final product itself.

By now, you've likely seen Disney's 2016 hit about a headstrong teen (Auli'i Cravalho) who teams up with a broken demigod (Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson) to restore the lost heart of the dying ocean — It's a whole thing. Directed by Disney legends Ron Clements and John Musker, it proved itself a record-breaking box office treat and later earned two Oscar nods for Best Animated Feature and Best Original Song in 2017.


1. You're not the only one upset that there wasn't more pig.

One of the biggest complaints against Moana (in social circles that apparently get heated over Moana) is the oceanic dearth of Pua, the cute little piglet who provides deep companionship for Moana her entire life on Motunui…only to be left behind on the island when she finally embarks on her big adventure. Pua truthers, take comfort: In earlier drafts of the story, Pua did, in fact, go with Moana on the trip, but ultimately was left back on the beach, partly for the pig's own safety amid all the peril. "I still have mixed feelings about that," Musker tells EW. "The pig was supposed to go with her, but we sort of a little bit got talked out of it. They liked Moana being more isolated, stuck with this idiot rooster, and not having the comfort of having the pig with her. There were cute scenes that we don't have."

2. The pig and the rooster were loosely based on the directors.

More Pua content: Moana's loyal pig and alt-rooster were initially modeled more primely after directors Clements and Musker. Now, you must know this: Clements and Musker have appeared directly in most, if not all of their films, sometimes with doppelgängers and other times through characters that merely share their comic height difference. Consider their cameo appearances as these odd eggs in Aladdin or two unsettlingly attractive muscle-men in Hercules. With Moana, Hei-Hei the rooster and Pua the pig were meant to be more overtly based on Clements and Musker, but it changed when the story called for Pua to stay on the island and Hei-Hei's IQ to be decimated. "The original joke was that this cranky rooster was based on John and the pig was based on me," says Clements. "But then the rooster…well, he was not stupid originally."

3. Mighty Maui, a rough-draft title.

Disney story chief John Lasseter typically asks directors to pitch three ideas — all completely different in world and theme — and then hones in on one worth pursuing. Moana was one of these, borne from Musker's loose intrigue in the world of the South Pacific, which led to a rabbit hole down Polynesian mythology, which led to the discovery of dozens of legends bearing versions of the fascinating shape-shifter character, Maui. In an early story, Maui was the lead — "we even had a pet name for him, like Mighty Maui," says Clements — and there was a female supporting character, "but she didn't have anything to do with navigation." Musker elaborates, "It was based on a myth where a girl's lover had been kidnapped, and she enlisted Maui to help her rescue her lost lover. That was the bare bones of it, certainly not much more to it than that. And John [Lasseter] loved the arena of it, but he said, 'You've got to dig deeper.'"

4. Moana the millennial

Another scrapped idea for Moana purported that she was a westerner dropped into the old world — a tween in King Arthur's Ocean-type story. "There was a time-travel aspect," the directors say. "A contemporary kid who went back and discovered his ancestors. Had an iPhone, all this modern stuff, and then discovered this ancient culture. We did not do that story."

5. "You're Welcome" was conceived as Moana's song.

Fast-forward through the inevitable epiphanies that did, in fact, lead to Moana becoming Moana, and more kinks arose, particularly when it came to nailing down the dynamic between Moana and her now-sidekick, Maui. The characters needed to connect during their first meeting, which, in a musical, would naturally be demarcated by a song — but a version of Maui's résumé-listing tune "You're Welcome" was actually meant to be sung by Moana. "When she first met him, she idolized him, and when she came upon this down-and-out guy, this mope, she had to get him going and so she sang a song to him reminding him, 'Don't you know you did all these great things?'" says Musker. That tipped the scales too far in Moana's favor, it seemed, until the idea arose to heighten Maui's braggadocio so that he, in turn, became the one offering a sales pitch and selling his own case. "Plus, it gave [Lin-Manuel Miranda] way more to write," Musker adds.

6. Maui's tattoos are the most classic Disney characters in the movie.

To further soften the personality of Maui from affably arrogant to occasionally curmudgeonly demigod, the filmmakers created Mini Maui, a pet name given to the character's inked-up conscience, which was hand-drawn in the traditional animation style. Their artist? Mark Henn, whose hall-of-fame animation credits include Belle in Beauty and the Beast, Jasmine in Aladdin, and Ariel in The Little Mermaid. Who knows, maybe you've heard of them.

7. Thank Pixar (partly) for that gorgeous ocean.

It's no secret that Pixar's brain trust and Disney's story trust interact on occasion, and one such consultation led to the beefing up of one of Moana's most magical elements. "We took a version of the movie up to Pixar, about a year and a half [before release], and typically these movies get torn to bits — by everyone — but they had a pretty positive reaction up there," says Clements. "The big thing they said was, 'The pig and the rooster, that's fine, we've seen that before — but the tattoos and the ocean!' We've never seen that!'" Musker beams, "Out of that, we decided to build up those parts. How can we get the ocean more involved? We looked for ways to enhance and fold in more beats with the ocean. It's so unique to this movie."

8. The film's songwriting team was modeled after the success of The Lion King.

In 1994, The Lion King's Oscar-winning music team included seasoned composer Hans Zimmer, pop star Elton John, and South African producer Lebo M. (whose voice you'd recognize as the chanter at the beginning of "Circle of Life"). To that end, Musker and Clements emulated that exact combination for Moana's trio: veteran composer Mark Mancina, A-lister Miranda, and South Pacific songwriter Opetaia Foa'i. You're welcome.

9. Mermaid representation matters.

Clements and Musker, who directed The Little Mermaid, laced plenty of references into their film (including a sneaky Flounder and an end-credits Sebastian mention), but Miranda got the opportunity to reflect his oft-reported favorite Disney movie in his own lyrical way. "Shiny," the David Bowie-inspired tune sung by human-crunching crab Tamatoa, allowed Miranda to earn redemption for lil' crab Sebastian's encounter with a villainous human chef in Mermaid. "'I get a chance to do 'Les Poissons' in reverse!'" Miranda told Clements and Musker, later tweeting that he'd subtitled the song "Sebastian's Revenge."

10. There's an Italian porn star named Moana.

Maybe this one isn't really a fun fact.

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