The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences presented the 13th Marc Davis Celebration of Animation: Hayao Miyazaki, on Tuesday, July 28, 2009. Pictured here at the reception preceding the event: writer-directors Ron Clements (left) and John Musker.

Ron Clements is woven into the fabric of the Disney Renaissance: directing or co-directing the likes of The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, The Princess and the Frog, Hercules, and the criminally underrated Treasure Planet. His partner in crime is John Musker, with the same sterling credits on his resume. Together, they deliver Disney’s newest animated feature Moana, arriving in theaters today. They talked about the project during a recent press conference for the film.


Question: Since The Little Mermaid, what has happened with technology that allowed you to now make the water an actual three-dimensional character within the film?

John Musker: Someone asked us, “could you have done that when you did The Little Mermaid?” The answer was no, obviously. But even five years ago I think it would have been much harder to do it. The technology just keeps developing all the time and we knew pretty early on we needed to do something special with the ocean here. When we were in the islands, people talked about the ocean as if it were alive. They had these personal relationships with the ocean, so we knew we wanted the ocean to be a character in the movie. We knew we wanted to have this lava monster in the movie. We didn’t know how to do it and we talked to a lot of very smart people, and they didn’t know how to do it either. They said it was going to be really, really hard, but they thought we could figure it out before the movie needed to come out and they did


Q: How did you get that island vibe?

Ron Clements: Well, this movie started five years ago, which is not that unusual for an animated film. It was John’s idea: he wanted to do a movie based on the world of the Pacific Islands and the mythology. We took a trip to Fiji, Samoa and Tahiti, which really was the basis of the movie in terms of the connection to navigation, to people’s connection to their ancestry, respect for nature, those kind of things. The people that we met have stayed involved with the movie throughout its production process to try to capture as much as we could of all the wondrous things we learned and the wonderful people that we met.


Q: I’m wondering if you drew inspiration from any particular films and where you think this is going to fit in, in the canon of Disney pictures.

RC: As far as films that we drew inspiration from, specifically Whale Rider was a film that I think was a big inspiration for the movie. There was another film we saw, probably most people haven’t seen it, it’s a documentary called Maiden Voyage about a 16-year-old girl who wanted to sail around the world solo. She didn’t quite make it, but it was very cool to see her struggle against the sea, with just her and the boat and that was kind of inspiring to see.

JC: There was also True Grit, of course, two versions. I think very early on we saw this as kind of a True Grit-type story. It never really had a romance in any of the versions, but it was this young girl who was on a quest to save her world, who has to team up, is forced to team up with a somewhat flawed demigod, and the two help each other as she goes through a hero’s journey and becomes who she’s meant to be.

RC: In terms of Disney films, some of that just sort of sneaks in and leeches in because we made some of those movies and it’s part of our own DNA. But I would say there was a slightly conscious thing in terms of The Lion King. We did not work on The Lion King, but the way they wove music together from other languages in English… we were inspired by that. We thought that Mark Mancina could help. He worked on The Lion King, and helped glue together a world music perspective for it. He was able to pull in Elton John and Tim Rice, and sort of make them live in the same world. We felt that Mark could help do that with our team, to help fuse all that into one thing.

JC: There’s also that indie movie, Mad Max: Fury Road[Laughter]. That was deliberate, though. I’m a big fan of George Miller…

RC: And John Ripa, who did the storyboards for us, loved Fury Road and he was talking about that not long after Fury Road had come out. He was like, “I’ve got this idea how to play this,” and so he went full-bore Mad Max in that sequence. We loved it and we were all for it. Don’t tell George Miller.


Our Score

By Rob Vaux

A Southern California native, Rob Vaux fell in love with the movies at an early age and has been a professional critic since the year 2000. His work has appeared on Flipside Movie Emporium,, and as well as the Sci-Fi Movie Page. He lives in the heart of surfer country and still defends the Star Wars prequels against all logic and sanity.

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