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Disney’s MOANA – A Review and Animation Team Interview

Written by: | Published: November 23, 2016 | Updated: September 05, 2023

I always love to see the art and design created for film, especially animation. MOANA, Disney’s newest animated feature film, showcases fantastic design techniques and styling to capture a sense of tradition and Pacific Island culture. I had a chance to not only watch Moana a few days early, but chat with two of the men on the animation team. I laughed, I cried and now I have the urge to sing Your Welcome. We love this new Disney movie!

MOANA Opens in Theaters November 23, 2016


Disney' Moana

Disney’s MOANA

a story about finding your way and knowing who you are.

Disney’s Moana had me laughing, thinking about family history and cheering for the girl. It’s a movie filled with fabulous reminders of seeking for your true passion in life and striving forward through all obstacles. Moana goes on her own journey to find out who she is and where she comes from. Of course she comes out a successful, stronger character at the end, but that’s not the full story.

There’s a bit of this film that reminds me of Pocahontas. The connection with nature and the importance of being true to who you are, these are strong messages in Moana.


A little Character insight

Moana is a darling girl with a curiosity and stubbornness I wish we each would strive to hold on to as we get older. Maui is a confident guy with a surprising soft side. He’s strong and approachable, just how I imagine Dwayne Johnson to be if we sat and had coffee (does he drink coffee?). I loved Moana’s grandmother, she reminds me of my own grannie. She’s spunky, full of wisdom and unexpected insight.

Moana and Maui

A surprise character

The ocean takes on an important role with a sense of personality, a fun, quirky character. A nice surprise for me, someone who is always in awe and a bit on guard with the ocean, this friendly character creates a sense of calm and security for an otherwise unpredictable force of nature.

Let’s not forget Pua precious little piggy and that rooster… thank goodness they didn’t get rid of HeiHei (hay-hay) rooster!

HeiHei and Pua from Moana

There’s a handful of villians in Moana. The Kakamora are my favorite. These guys are the most adorable bad guys you’ll ever see!


Find tickets and showtimes on Fandango.


Kakamora in Moana

I don’t want to give too much away, but I laughed and laughed while watching Moana. There are so many fun little side comments and quirky moments.  Of course I cried, I always cry at Disney movies. I don’t think you need to bring a ton of tissue, but that napkin you snag when you buy your soda would be just fine. I can’t wait to hear which characters are YOUR favorite!

Disney' Moana


A Conversation with MOANA Animation Team Members

Last week I also had the opportunity to sit down with two men on the MOANA animation team, Hyrum Osmond (Co-Head of Animation) and David G. Derrick Jr. (Story Artist). It was really fun to hear a bit about the inspiration and ideas that helped shape this story and the characters. We chatted for a while about the making of Moana, some of their personal influence on the film and a little about themselves and how they got to where they are today.

I didn’t have many specific questions I needed answered. I joined two others from local media outlets to join in on the conversation. Here are some of the interesting things I learned…

“You can’t know where you are going until you know where you have been.”

One of the key messages shared was the reminder to not only strive to move ahead, but stop and pause and look at what you’ve already explore, learned and accomplished. Heritage and our personal journeys are main themes in this film. This is a repeated phrase in the movie as well as in conversations with the animators.

“We can only create from our own experiences.”

David explained that in order to get a real sense of the people and story of Moana, the team had to research and surround themselves in the Polynesian culture. Spending time with local communities, taking in the sights and the environment, learning about traditions… even David’s own Samoan family history played a part in shaping this film. It was fun to hear him talk about his own family and how they helped him capture story details of Moana.

David also talked about the importance of family heritage (He’s a big fan of making “Polynesian day” a real thing). He shared about traveling with his family to spend time with the locals and how he learned to paint tapa cloths. He told a story about the beautiful design in a blanket which belonged to his grandfather. He worked some of those design details into the art in this film to not only make the film feel more authentic, but also honor his own family heritage.

“Don’t stop drawing. Draw every day.”

Hyrum talked about “The Little Mermaid” and “Aladdin” as turning points for his career inspiration. One of the highlights for him in the making of Moana was finally being able to work with John Muskar, the man that inspired his career many years ago. Muskar is one of the directors of Moana and was the Director of “Aladdin”. Hyrum also talked about working with the voice actors and how they bring the characters to life with their own personalities and perspectives. He shared that he is a big fan of Easter eggs (you know, those fun hidden messages scattered throughout a Disney movie… a knod to another movie or character). Keep an eye out! I spotted a few, watch for Ralph, another film Mr. Osmond worked on.

Side note: Make sure to sit through the movie credits, there’s a fun little extra that had us laughing our way to the car.

Interesting insight..

Here’s a couple of questions I asked.

  1. I asked about the technical aspect of creating an animated movie. I always wondered which came first, the animation/story boards or the voice actors and their script. I learned that they both kind of move along in close timing with development. The story board might change as an actor adds in some commentary. The artists will watch the voice actors work to pick up on the actor’s mannerisms and personality traits that can be incorporated into the animated character’s visual personality.
  2.  For me, this movie had a bit of a different animation style than previous movies. So, I asked if there was something done differently. I learned one of the challenges Moana animators faced for the first time was how to work with skin. There’s far more skin showing in this movie than previous films. Usually characters are covered in clothing, but Polynesian attire is far less fabric… so the animators needed to figure out how to effectively create a believable resemblance of skin. I also learned that Maui’s tattoo covered body includes a secondary animation style. When you watch the mini Maui, you’ll see what I mean. Such a cool design combo!

Official Moana Trailer

Here’s a sneak peek of Moana… watch for that rooster!



My Take Aways Inspired by Moana

Strive for your own creative happiness. It’s a message I kept hearing again again. Throughout the movie and the interview with Hyrum and David, I kept thinking to myself… push forward and don’t lose your sense of self. Do what you love and create a path for yourself to succeed. In my mind that translates to, strive for your own creative happiness.

Be a Creative Wayfinder. I encourage you run out and see Moana for yourself. I think we could all learn something new if we set out to explore new paths. I hope you too discover a new found motivation and strength to seek who you are and love yourself and your own creative talents.

Chill Out and Laugh Stop and let some of the goofy things in life make you laugh. That rooster is so goofy and pretty useless. But the animation team fought to keep him around because he makes us laugh. I think we could all use more HeiHei in our day.

More Moana

MOANA on Facebook |  MOANA on Twitter | Disney Animation on Instagram | official MOANA website

Check out the Moana Reviews from Mom Endeavors and read all about the Moana world premier in Hollywood recap from See Mom Click.


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Jen is Passionate about Creativity. She is the owner and "doodle in charge" of JGoode Designs, a Denver based design studio. She is an illustrator, mixed media artist and creative lifestyle blogger. Jen has been a creative professional since 1998 but says she's been an artist since she was old enough to eat glue.

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