Maui is a demigod—half god, half mortal, all awesome. Charismatic and funny, he wields a magical fishhook that allows him to shapeshift into all kinds of animals and pull up islands from the sea. He lassoed the sun to give humans longer days and harnessed the breeze for their benefit.
Filmmakers called on superstar Dwayne Johnson to provide the voice of Maui in Walt Disney Animation Studios’ 56th animated feature “Moana,” the sweeping, CG-animated film about a spirited teenager who sails out on a daring mission to prove herself a master wayfinder and fulfill her ancestors’ unfinished quest.
“He’s very connected to his Samoan roots,” says director Ron Clements. “Maui is a charismatic character and Dwayne is nothing if not charismatic. He has great comedic timing, nails the action scenes and is so likable. And he can sing.”
Johnson was sold on the role. “We all grew up with stories of Maui—this great demigod who’s larger than life,” he says. “It just blows you away as a kid. So it was an opportunity to showcase my culture and to be part of something that was truly historic. And I’m not saying that because I’m a little biased.”
Artists were inspired by the actor. “There is definitely a little Dwayne in Maui,” says art director of characters Bill Schwab. “We didn’t want it to feel like a caricature, we just wanted to convey the feeling of Dwayne—which really comes out in the animation with his eyebrows. We were also inspired by his maternal grandfather, who was also a wrestler. He just really had to look cool.”
“I paid close attention to how Dwayne would accent his dialogue with his head movement,” says animation supervisor Mack Kablan. “Dwayne has this air of confidence to him that was really well-suited to the character of Maui that we wanted to incorporate.”
In the film’s story, Maui was once considered the greatest hero in Oceania, but after a fateful decision, he finds himself banished to solitude. “Maui is responsible for the trouble that threatens Moana’s people,” says director John Musker. “He’s paying a price for his actions and is somewhat of a lost hero—a shadow of his former self.”
“He’s always looking for man’s approval,” says head of story David Pimentel. “He wants to be liked.”
“The more praise he gets, the more he wants to do,” adds John Ripa, head of story. “So he decides to steal the heart of Te Fiti, thinking it’ll win him the love and adoration of everyone. He believes it’ll give him the power of creation. He has no idea of the damage it does—of the darkness that is unleashed.”
It’ll take hundreds of years and one determined teenager for him to have the opportunity to undo his actions. “Moana needs him to right his wrongs and restore what’s been lost,” says Musker.
Embarking on an important journey of self-discovery alongside Moana, Maui brings his super strength—as well as his super-sized issues. “He has an all-encompassing drive to succeed that gets him into trouble,” concludes Clements. “But facing the reason behind it isn’t easy.”
Opening across the Philippines on Nov. 30, Moana is distributed by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures through Columbia Pictures. Like us on Facebook, WaltDisneyStudiosPH; follow us on Twitter, @disney_phil; follow us on Instagram, @disney.ph and use the hashtag #MoanaPH.