A world without Gramma Tala? A different kind of rooster?! In the current issue of EW, producer Osnat Shurer reveals the ideas that were scrapped from — and added to — Disney's hit animated film about a Polynesian princess.
"One of the first things we needed to do was figure out how the ocean was going to [be animated], so we ended up producing the sequence of Moana as a toddler when she first meets the ocean," says Shurer. "It was so beautifully animated, but we originally thought we needed her to have her first interaction with the ocean at the age that we spend the movie with her, which is 16. But we were all kind of yearning for the sweet sequence that we loved so much, and eventually the story shifted and we were able to put it back in."
"The very early story was that Moana had seven brothers and her dad was the one who wanted to revive voyaging," says Shurer. "We were playing with that kind of idea, that she doesn't get taken along even though she's the best sailor, because she's a girl. But then we realized that we wanted this to be a true hero's journey, in which our hero just happens to be female; we didn't want her flaw and her problem to be her gender."
"In the beginning, Heihei the rooster was kind of an ornery, angry dude," says Shurer. "We weren't loving where he was at, and there was a moment we thought we might cut him. We gave the team a couple of days and went, 'Save the chicken if you can.' The story artists came back with a pitch about 'the stupidest character in Disney history' and had us crying laughing. We celebrated with a fried chicken party."
"Pua the pet pig was originally going on the journey with Moana, but the issue was that in a classic hero's journey, the hero leaves all comforts behind. And so we made the difficult decision to leave poor Pua at home, so that all things of Moana's family are left behind," says Shurer. "It wasn't a very popular decision around the office; there was almost a petition through the studio to [have Moana] take the pig."
"We had a long story that took place in the underworld: There were all these monsters Maui had taken down originally, so when Maui and Moana went to the underworld he had to go in disguise," says Shurer. "It was a great story that had beautiful visuals, we just ran out of time in the movie. That ended up turning into the Tamatoa sequence. Lin-Manuel Miranda sent in the song 'Shiny' about a week after David Bowie passed away, and it was a little bit of an homage from all of us; we knew we had the sequence we wanted within that single song."
"Gramma Tala wasn't added until later in our process. She's inspired by our experiences in the Pacific Islands. There's this woman named Hinano Murphy who lives on Mooréa who was an integral, important part of our Oceanic story trust; she's this incredibly inspiring woman who has created a nonprofit that brings forward the original culture of Tahiti," says Shurer. "She has a particular wisdom, a sense of mischief, a sense of humor, and a willingness to do everything she needs to do to help the next generation learn who they are. She was our main inspiration for adding Gramma Tala to the story."