Dwayne Johnson has used his impressive physical form to play everyone from the Scorpion King to Hercules to The Rock Obama. But for Disney’s animated feature “Moana,” his equally powerful voice will do all the heavy lifting.
In a nod to his own South Pacific roots, Johnson is giving voice to the powerful demigod Maui, who forms an unlikely friendship with the teenaged Polynesian princess Moana, in the first computer-animated feature directed by Disney legends John Musker and Ron Clements (“The Little Mermaid,” “Aladdin”).
Spinoff Online joined Johnson for a brief red carpet visit with press at Disney’s D23 Expo in Anaheim, California, to share his excitement for the film.
What does it mean to you that this projects taps into your Polynesian history and mythology — and being a Disney film, that it’s a story that’s probably going to be told again and again for generations?
Dwayne Johnson: Yes. It’s incredibly humbling, and it also makes myself and my family and our heritage, our culture — our Polynesian culture — just extremely proud. When they came to me with the idea, I loved the idea. They came to me with the idea of the character, loved the character. Also, I think on a bigger scale, Disney, as a lot of us know, are the greatest storytellers in the world. And when they tell a story, they generally do it pretty good, right? And pretty authentic and there’s a lot of heart. And there’s a lot of lessons to be learned along the way.
I loved opportunity of it. And also, it just gave me an opportunity to be deeply involved in the Disney family on the animated side. I had the opportunity to make a couple of movies in the past — I did “Race to Witch Mountain” and “Game Plan” with Disney. But to be in the animated space, in the animated family, is very, very special.
I will tell you this, is that when I first got the news, we were on our way to China to promote a movie, me and my agent, Brad Slater. And he goes, “Hey, I’ve got great news.” Right before we go on the plane. I go, “What’s up?” He goes, “You should sit down.” I’m like, “Come on, don’t mess with me.” “No, no, no. I’m serious. You should sit down.” I’m like, “I’m going to be on the flight for 20 hours. You can tell me.” He’s like, “Disney called. They want you to be the male lead in their next animated movie.” I’m like, “I’m going to sit down.” I sit down.
Hearing the news was awesome. It was really awesome. And to watch and hear the people’s reaction today, to the footage we were showing them, kind of cements it. So I think we’ve got a shot.
So how does your character fit in the world of the film?
Barely. He barely fits. He’s a demigod, and his legend and his reputation precedes him. And he comes upon Moana, and they find each other. And I think one of the best parts about the story of Moana is many great lessons – as you often find in Disney movies, by the way — great lessons being told. Sometimes there are clear messages and lessons. Sometimes you’ve got to dig a little deeper and you’re able to pull the value out of the lessons. But I love that some of the greatest lessons, if not the greatest lesson, comes from a young person teaching an older person and [him] empowering this young girl. So to be able to play the character is a lot of fun. To get in the room, the sessions are amazing. There’s a different process from live-action, in terms of making movies. But certainly one that I really enjoyed.
You typically bring a lot of physicality to your roles. It’s a different process for animation. How did you approach it?
How I approached it was to walk in the studio doors at Disney and really be a sponge. It’s a different process. It’s a different muscle that I use. I’ve done voiceover work in the past, but it’s different when it’s Disney because there’s such incredible, deep drive to care that they do with their storytelling, its authenticity, the lessons. And look, they continuously have these story trusts where they have a multitude of their filmmakers all in the room, and they’re all hammering out these ideas. So you have a variety of filmmakers on so many other movies that would come and work on the movie, too.
It’s such a different process. It’s an amazing process, and every time I tell people about it, they’re always blown away. So I, personally, wanted to be able to go in, be a sponge and also — what you also realize is Disney animation in these movies, the character comes to life when their voice comes to life. So the voice becomes the actual thing that is alive. It’s a very, very cool process.
“Moana” arrives in theaters Nov. 23, 2016.
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