With Moana, Disney defied some of its conventions while still giving us essentially a Disney princess story. But apparently it wasn’t going to be a girl power tale originally. Director Ron Clements told CinemaBlend that the story was initially going to focus on the demi-god Maui, now voiced by The Rock. “[Co-director John Musker] read a lot of the mythology and Maui really comes out of that as this wonderful character. He’s a demi-god, a shape-shifter and with this magical fishing hook he could pull up islands,” Clements explained. “So our very first version of the story, our sort of title for it was Mighty Maui, and it was a Maui-centric story, based on two or three Maui myths that we just kind of mashed together.” Mighty Maui sounds like it would have been something of an heir to Disney’s Hercules, which Clements and Musker did direct—a bastardization of a culture’s legends.
But then the two actually took a trip to the Pacific Islands, and they decided to refocus the film on the people of the region. “We learned so much about navigation and the history of navigation, which was not a part of the story,” Clements said. “People’s connection to the ocean… they talked about the ocean like it was alive, which was not a part of the story.” Thus Moana became the story of an adventurous teenager who is drawn to the sea and learns about wayfinding. Maui, however, is still very much a part of the movie, but takes a backseat thanks to feminism.