The animated film “Moana” is the first Walt Disney Company picture to ever be re-recorded in the Hawaiian language, a project accomplished in collaboration with the University of Hawaii.

The re-recording is a breakthrough in Hawaiian language media, said UH Manoa junior Kaipu Baker, who voiced Maui in the production.

“It professionalizes Hawaiian language,” said Baker. “It’s saying that you can be a sound technician. If you olelo you can direct movies. If you olelo you can be an actor. If you olelo you can write scripts, you can work in the media sphere. Because our people, just like any other people, need, deserve and want to consume media that is tailored specifically for them. There’s no greater tailor than language.”

Disney and five UH programs collaborated to re-record the translation, making it the 46th language the film has been translated into. The project was announced in November to begin casting voice actors.

Baker did not initially audition for the role of Maui and was instead helping the production team with casting. But after auditions finished early, he decided to try out himself.

And the spontaneous decision worked out — he got the role.

Although he enjoyed the film, controversy surrounding its originally release in 2016 regarding the appropriation of Polynesian culture and myths was impossible for Baker to ignore.

“I think my biggest problem with ‘Moana’ is that saying that this is just a Polynesian story is kind of glossing over the hundreds of cultures within Polynesia’ (and) is in itself kind of stereotypical,” said Baker. “It’s a cool story, but … it’s a distortion, and it convolutes the identity of people. When you kind of just mix everything in a pot, you lose all of the individual flavors and individual identity of peoples. You cannot look at the movie and say ‘oh this is uniquely Hawaiian or uniquely Tahitian, or uniquely Maori.’”

Kaipu Baker in HCC’s MELE studio voicing the character Maui.

Academy of Creative Media System

Over 140 people auditioned, and in January 30 voice actors were chosen. The cast includes Hawaii’s Aulii Cravalho, who reprised her original role as the picture’s protagonist, Moana, and Waianae singer Nicole Scherzinger as Sina, the mother of Moana. Scherzinger is the lead singer of the band, The Pussycat Dolls.

Spearheaded by UH’s Academy for Creative Media system, program founder Chris Lee approached Disney after he was given the idea of a Hawaiian language version of the picture by Kaliko Maii, a UH Manoa ACM graduate.

Lee said he promised the company that UH would “not tax their resources” with the project’s production. Instead, programs throughout the university and the ACM system translated, casted, recorded, mixed and managed it.

About 4,000 original audio files were recorded at Honolulu Community College’s Music & Entertainment Learning Experience studio. Lee said the project used students, faculty and staff from UH Manoa, UH West Oahu, HCC, Windward Community College and UH Hilo.

The final mix was then completed by Disney with Lee, Musical Director Aaron Sala, and the HCC studio’s student engineers.

Audience members at the premiere of the Hawaiian language version of “Moana” at Ko Olina’s Aulani Resort and Spa.

Agatha Danglapin

The re-recorded film premiered June 10 at Disney’s Aulani Resort & Spa in conjunction with the World Oceans Day event. 

Because the project was based off of an educational endeavor, the film will not be released for public purchase and there are no other plans for public distribution or screenings. Instead, DVDs of the final product will be provided to every public and private school from preschool to college throughout the islands as an educational tool.

The Academy for Creative Media is working with the Department of Education to distribute the DVDs and hopes to have them out by fall.

“We believe Disney ‘Moana’ olelo Hawaii will be a great educational resource and encourage many students to learn our native language,” said Lee.

Aulii Cravalho sings “How Far I’ll Go” at the Moana in Olelo Hawaii premiere.

Agatha Danglapin

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, more than 26,205 people speak Hawaiian. Olelo Hawaii has largely lacked exposure at the level of Disney movie. While the studios’ “Lilo and Stitch” (2002) was set in Hawaii, it was never translated.

“The overall experience was challenging, but exciting. I have two little girls and they love “Moana,” said Anoilani Aga, an administrator for the Institute of Hawaiian Language Research and Translation and lead reviewer for the project’s translations to olelo Hawaii.

Just having the opportunity to produce a Hawaiian translation for ‘Moana’ was a big deal for me,” Aga said. “To see little keiki, like my two girls, to see a movie that’s done in olelo Hawaii will have a big impact on their future to know that their language is relevant and it can be put on a big screen and they can achieve whatever they want.”

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