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The Art of Moana, by Jessica Julius and Maggie Malone – Book Review by Fred Patten




Submitted by Fred Patten, Furry’s favorite historian and reviewer

9781452155364_flatcoverThe Art of Moana, by Jessica Julius and Maggie Malone. Preface by John Lasseter. Foreword by Ron Clements and John Musker.
San Francisco, CA, Chronicle Books, November 2016, hardcover $40.00 (160 pages), Kindle $16.19.

Moana is a 103-minute 3D computer-animated comedy fantasy feature film from Walt Disney Animation Studios, released on November 23rd, 2016. The Art of Moana is a coffee-table, full-color art book describing that film, and its making, in detail. Jessica Julius and Maggie Malone, the book’s authors, are both veteran executives at Walt Disney Animation. Julius wrote The Art of Big Hero Six and The Art of Zootopia. The preface is by John Lasseter, the director responsible for turning the Pixar and Disney studios into the powerhouses of theatrical feature animation in the last two decades. The foreword is by Ron Clements and John Musker, the co-directors of many other Disney features including The Little Mermaid and Aladdin.

The Art of Moana is a de luxe art book about the film and its making, with detailed visual samples and background information. For those interested in the film, this book is worth getting for the names of all the characters alone. The rejected preliminary designs of the main characters will be fascinating, also.

The film’s plot is summarized in its official blurb.

“Three thousand years ago, the greatest sailors in the world ventured across the Pacific, discovering the many islands of Oceania. But then, for a millennium, their voyages stopped—and no one today knows why. From Walt Disney Animation Studios, Moana is a CG-animated adventure about a spirited teenager who sails out on a daring mission to prove herself a master wayfinder and fulfill her ancestors’ unfinished quest. During her journey, Moana meets the once-mighty demi-god Maui and together they traverse the open ocean on an action-packed adventure, encountering enormous fiery creatures and impossible odds.”

Moana is a weak film from a furry aspect. Most of the characters are humans. Maui, a demi-god, is human for most of the time. But Maui is a shapeshifter who can also change into many beasts; mainly a giant hawk that Moana can ride, but also other birds, animals, fish, and bugs.


Andy Harkness, digital

Moana wouldn’t be a Disney animated feature without at lest one cute semi-anthropomorphized animal sidekick; in this case Pua, Moana’s pet piglet – a New Zealand Kunekune pig. He doesn’t talk, but his human expressions display his human intelligence. The film also features Heihei, a comedy-relief bantam rooster, but Heihei doesn’t exhibit any human intelligence. Or any other kind of intelligence.

The Art of Moana focuses upon the feature’s characters, in full detail from preliminary designs to finished computer-graphic art. Moana, the adolescent Polynesian heroine, gets 12 pages showing her growth from a toddler to a teenager in a full range of costumes; from a native villager to a lone (until she meets Maui) oceanic voyager.   The art is by the Disney artists who designed her: Manu Arenas, Neysa Bové. Jin Kim, Brittney Lee, Hyun Min Lee, Minkyu Lee, Annette Marnat, John Musker, Griselda Sastrawinata-Lemay, Bill Schwab, Chad Stubblefield, and Scott Watanabe. Other island villagers who get about two to four pages each are Gramma Tala, Chief Tui and Moana’s mother Sini, and the animals Pui and Heihei. The villagers in general are shown in their costumes (working and ceremonial) and jewelry. Motonui, Moana’s home Pacific island where she grows up, is treated like a character and fully developed.


Once Moana begins her voyage of exploration, the film (and the book) shifts to Oceana: the marine life and the traditional sailing craft. Maui is introduced and gets almost twenty pages, including four showing his shapeshifting forms. The ocean itself is anthropomorphized to a minor extent. “Into the Realm of the Fantastic” shows what Moana and Maui find, from the little Kakamora creatures (sort of anti-Minions; tiny and cute but never nice) to the Pacific monsters like Tamatoa, the giant crab. “‘The monsters in Lalotai were inspired by real fish and flora found in the deep sea, like angler fish and bioluminescent deep sea eels, but there’s also an eight-eyed bat and a monster eel from from the Maui legends. So they’re fantastic but grounded in something real.’ –Bill Schwab, art director of characters; p. 135.” Tamatoa is a giant anthropomorphized coconut crab with a nasty grin. The film culminates in a battle between Moana and Maui versus Te Kā, the volcano god.

The Art of Moana mostly concentrates on visual portraits of the characters, but there are also storyboards, environment models, and color keys. If you want to know anything about Moana including its anthropomorphic characters, here it is.

Fred Patten

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