The Disney Princess lineup gets a much-needed bit of ethnic diversity with this week’s new release of Moana. The title character (voiced by newcomer Auliʻi Cravalho) is an adventure-seeking girl who’s growing restless cooped up on the island where she lives with her family and other families who have been there for generations. One day she’s called upon to save her people and so sets out across the sea that’s been calling to her all her life.
To complete her quest she seeks to enlist the aid of the demigod Maui (Dwayne Johnson), but convincing him to join her is an adventure in itself. Once he’s on board, though, the two face an increasing number of dangers including giant monsters and a raft of other threats that want to keep them from succeeding in their mission. Add to that the two have very different approaches – she’s serious and goal-minded while he’s full of himself and bound on achieving glory – and you have the makings of a fun but thrilling Disney adventure.
The first poster for the movie definitely sold the spectacle and visuals of the movie, showing the father and daughter riding a small boat on the wide, bright blue ocean. “The ocean is calling” is the only copy other than the title, telling people that there’s some sort of journey, likely of self-discovery, that will be told in the movie.
The next poster more clearly shows off both Maui and Moana, both of whom are standing on a small patch of beach sand with massive waves cresting and swirling around them, which sets up the location for the story. The movie is tagged as coming from creators of both Zootopia and Frozen to give it some cred with the kiddos. Overall this continues the trend of this movie being sold with bright, flashy visuals that certainly play up Maui but also make it clear Moana is the star, signaled here by her standing slightly in front of him, posed defiantly with her animal sidekicks at her side.
The first teaser trailer begins by introducing us to the fantastic feats accomplished by the demigod Maui, which are amazing, if he does say so himself. We watch him reenacting all kinds of accomplishments and soon see he’s doing so for the benefit of his teenage daughter, who gives him a look between disgust and confusion that’s unique to teenage daughters. After that it’s all about the visuals as we see Maui and Moana sailing, fishing and more and get a chance to really see how gorgeous the movie is going to look.
The other big element of the teaser is not only the voice talent but the involvement of Lin-Manuel Miranda, he of Hamilton fame. Put all that together and you have a nice trailer that shows off, as everyone pointed out, the first Disney Princess of Polynesian descent, which is pretty notable.
The first full trailer starts out by introducing us to the peaceful island Moana calls home and the grave threat looming over it. A hero must travel and find Maui to defeat the monster and Moana is that hero. Of course their first meeting isn’t as smooth as anyone might have thought, but eventually she convinces him to join her, especially after she shows off the special connection she has with the sea. After that it’s all wacky hijinks and monster battles, though of course there’s plenty of room for the cute but ferocious little coconut creatures, some jokes involved Moana’s chicken sidekick and more.
This looks like it could be…really good. Both characters are given time to shine here and while there’s the usual amounts of Disney cuteness and humor, it’s hard to get past the charm that comes off the trailer. A lot of that is because of Johnson’s line readings, which isn’t surprising. It’s fast-paced and funny and is just sold really well by this trailer. I’m now hooked.
Online and Social
There’s not a whole lot going on over at the movie’s official website as it’s built in the same template Disney has been using for a while for their movie sites.
The key art at the top also is a link that takes you to a site to buy tickets. After that is a section of various videos, including the trailer, clips, featurettes and interviews and more. Then there’s a synopsis that outlines the story and mentions the talent involved.
Links to the important social networks – the movie only has a Facebook page and the Twitter and Instagram links are for Disney Animation – are next followed by a rotating series of character images. The usual Disney Animation activity and information packets are next and finally there’s a cast and crew list.
Advertising and Cross-Promotion
The TV spots opened up with an extended promo airing during the recent Olympics. The commercial’s main focus is to introduce the lava monster that will be the antagonist to the story but is more focused on the reluctant partnership between Maui and Moana. The former is not thrilled to have a partner but she’s persistent in wanting to accompany him.
Online and social ads drove ticket sales as well as views of the trailers and other videos. There was plenty of outdoor advertising as well that used the key art of Moana and Maui to show off the characters and setting.
Media and Publicity
Well in advance of its release the movie would start building buzz by giving audiences at Disney’s 2015 D23 conference a first look at footage and bringing Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson out to talk about his role.
Things would then go quiet until late 2015 when it was announced that a native Hawaiian had been cast as the film’s titular lead character, a young girl. This was a smart move as many movies have come under fire recently for casting Caucasian actors or actresses to play a character who’s decidedly not Caucasian, or at least not of the same ethnic background as the character. I’m sure there’s more to it than that, but doing so helped head off the same backlash those other movies have come in for.
Later on a Disney Channel promo for the movie would offer the first look at footage in advance of the release of a trailer and other marketing materials. The movie did have a presence at San Diego Comic-Con, where the directors and other crew talked about why they chose Maui to be in the story, what sort of research went into the story and more.
There was a special screening of the movie at AFI Fest, helping it get in front of a high-profile audience. Then there was a big feature that focused on the development of Moana’s look, particularly how he’s rendered in this movie as being much larger and more muscular than in traditional narratives. That didn’t sit well with natives who call Moana their own since they felt it perpetuated stereotypes, but the Disney team justified it as being necessary to the story.
Disney’s put together quite a nice campaign here, one that hits all the beats it needs to in order to appeal to all audiences. It has a female protagonist, which is great and which will appeal to girls and others while the presence of The Rock should appeal to…well…the entire audience. Add in the heavily-touted presence of Lin-Manuel Miranda and you have, before you even get to the story or do any graphic design work, a campaign that checks off a lot of boxes based on talent alone.
That’s not to discount, though, the nicely brand consistent campaign that has been assembled here. Everything, all the elements of the campaign, shares that bright and colorful look that’s seen on the posters and just keeps going. It’s impossible to not get the clear message that this is a sea-going adventure being sold, one that involves a strong, tough-minded young girl and her demigod sidekick. It looks fun and vibrant and hopefully provides a bit of emotional uplifting that’s much-needed these days.