Disney Sails Live-Action ‘Moana’ into Early Development

Disney is preparing to chart a course to a live-action telling of their beloved animated hit, Moana, with voice talents like Dwayne Johnson and Auli’i Cravalho, as well as writer and co-director Jared Bush on board in creative capacities.

Johnson made the announcement earlier today in a video during a Disney stockholder meeting. While the film is still in the early planning stages, a lot of the cast and crew from the original are said to be involved in varying capacities. This includes Johnson Dany Garcia and Hiram Garcia via their Seven Bucks Productions and Beau Flynn via Flynn Picture Co.

Executive producers include Cravalho, who voiced Moana in the 2016 film, and Scott Sheldon of Flynn Picture Co. Bush and Samoan industry pro Dana Ledoux Miller will also take part in the production. Bush, who was a director and co-writer of Disney’s Oscar®-winning feature Encanto and a writer and co-director on Disney’s Oscar®-winning film Zootopia, wrote the screenplay for 2016’s Moana.

Like its animated predecessor, the film will celebrate the islands, communities and traditions of Pacific Islanders as seen through the eyes of a young woman eager to pave her own path. Moana’s journey of self-discovery and reflection on the lives of her ancestors won hearts worldwide, as did her newfound friendship with an exiled demigod named Maui. 

Johnson, who plans to return to the fictional world to set sail with Moana, said, “I’m deeply humbled and overcome with gratitude to bring the beautiful story of Moana to the live-action big screen. This story is my culture, and this story is emblematic of our people’s grace and warrior strength. I wear this culture proudly on my skin and in my soul, and this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reunite with Maui, inspired by the mana and spirit of my late grandfather, High Chief Peter Maivia, is one that runs very deep for me. I want to thank my partners at Disney for their strong commitment to this special endeavor, because there is no better world for us to honor the story of our people, our passion and our purpose than through the realm of music and dance, which is at the core of who we are as Polynesian people.”

Native Hawaiian actor Cravalho, who helped shape Moana in the original film, said the beloved protagonist’s reach is sweeping. “She has had such a profound impact on how we think of Disney princesses,” Cravalho said. “Moana’s strength and perseverance are inspiring — to audiences around the world, to me and to everyone who helped bring her to life. I’m looking forward to sharing her story in a whole new way.”

Disney’s John Musker and Ron Clements directed the original, with Lin-Manuel Miranda writing the music, including the Oscar-nominated “How Far I’ll Go.”

In “Moana,” Walt Disney Animation Studios’ upcoming big-screen adventure, a spirited teenager named Moana (left) sails out on a daring mission to prove herself a master wayfinder. Along the way, she meets once-mighty demi-god Maui (right). Featuring Native Hawaiian newcomer Auli’i Cravalho as the voice of Moana, and Dwayne Johnson as the voice of Maui, “Moana” sails into U.S. theaters on Nov. 23, 2016. ©2015 Disney. All Rights Reserved.

Released in 2016, Moana was a huge hit with critics and audiences, grossing over $644 million in the global box office. It went on to be nominated for two Academy Awards, Best Animated Feature and Best Original Song. The film’s soundtrack, written by Lin-Manuel Miranda, Opetaia Foa’i and Mark Mancina, was lauded worldwide. Miranda won a GRAMMY® for best song written for visual media (“How Far I’ll Go”). In 2021, the “Moana” soundtrack broke a Billboard Soundtrack chart record for the amount of time spent at number one (52 weeks).

Disney has not shied away from adapting their animated films into live-action ones. Most of which are box office hits and some are just as good as their animated counterparts. Of course, there have been a few duds in the past, but that hasn’t stopped the studio from finding ways to keep these adaptations alive. Some of their strategies included focusing more on the villains like Cruella. Additionally, Moana is one of the first in the new age of Disney animated CG movies to be adapted into a live-action film. So, with traditionally hand-drawn content like The Little Mermaid and Lilo and Stitch being released, it’s only a matter of time before we get to see a live-action Frozen or Raya and the Last Dragon on the big screen.