With no romance for Disney's princess 'Moana,' Lin-Manuel Miranda will supply the passion

Fans were treated to a sneak peek of Disney’s upcoming “Moana” on Thursday at a Comic-Con, where directors Ron Clements and John Musker showed clips from the animated film featuring an island princess and surprised the capacity crowd by sharing the first three minutes of the film. 

“Moana” begins with the back story of Maui — the demi-god of the wind and the sea voiced by Dwayne Johnson. Panel attendees got to see the shape-shifter in action, seamlessly morphing between various forms, as well as wielding his fish hook against a demon of earth and fire. 

A surprise appearance by actress Auli'i Cravalho, who voices Moana, preceded the sneak peek. The three minutes were light on Moana (she’s seen as a child hearing Maui’s story), another clip that followed, involving Moana meeting Maui, showcased Cravalho’s voicework in action. 

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But perhaps the most beautiful preview of the film’s animation was the third clip that was shared — the scene of a young Moana meeting the ocean for the first time. The audience (including the jovial toddler sitting next to this reporter during the panel) was transfixed by the way the water moved and interacted with Moana in the scene.

Yes, “meeting,” as the ocean is very much a character in this film. 

Although Cravalho is native Hawaiian, it turns out “Moana” is not specifically a Hawaiian story. The panel included a behind-the-scenes reel of the research trip Clements and Musker made to Fiji, Samoa, Tahiti and the islands in the South Pacific. Variations of Maui’s legend is present in all the various islands. 

Also confirmed at the panel: The Rock will sing a song in the movie. And not just any song. Clements and Musker shared that Johnson will be singing a song specifically written for him by Lin-Manuel Miranda. 

In a departure from Clements and Musker’s classic Disney films (including “The Little Mermaid” and “Aladdin”) the animal sidekicks in “Moana,” although plenty cute, will not talk. 

But perhaps the most significant reveal about Moana came during the audience Q&A portion of the presentation. 

When asked what sets Moana her apart from the princesses in previous Disney films, Musker shared how it’s Moana who is going on a hero’s journey in the film. 

“There is no romance in the movie,” said Musker. 

Moana, following in the path of recent Disney princesses, is her own hero and will not be letting anybody else define who she is.

tracy.brown@latimes.com

Twitter: @tracycbrown

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