Disney’s ‘Moana 2’ Footage Introduces Moana’s Little Sister, Reveals Sequel’s Timeline

“Moana 2” is nearly here and the sequel got its sea legs at the Annecy International Animation Film Festival, where directors David Derrick Jr. and Jason Hand showed off the first footage from the film on Friday, introducing the crowd to new characters, new songs and new adventure. This looks like a much bigger film than the first movie in every way – more characters, a bigger boat, larger scale – but it also appears to retain what made the first film so charming and effective.

The first footage that was shown was a musical sequence called “We’re Back,” which has Moana (once again voiced by Auliʻi Cravalho) returning from her latest seafaring voyage. Obviously, the song, by Abigal Barlow and Emily Bear, has another meaning since Moana – the character and the franchise – is also returning. But there’s a lot of story that is relayed through the song, as we see various villagers who (spoiler alert!) later become part of Moana’s team, reveling in her accomplishments. They recount her exploits with Maui (Dwayne Johnson), talk about how she’s opened the island and has generally gone beyond her position as the daughter of the village chief. She is so much more.

The next bit of footage introduced Simea, Moana’s little sister. The sequel, Derrick and Hand announced, takes place three years after the first movie but Simea seems to be older than that and the other characters have aged more prominently (Moana’s dad has streaks of grey, Moana herself has been subtly redesigned). Moana and Simea are the closest siblings imaginable, they refer to each other as “Big Sis” and “Little Sis” and Moana’s mission – to make a connection with another island — takes on an even greater importance as she is trying to forge a better future for her little sister.

At a ceremony where her father, the village chief, is going to pronounce Moana “Tautai” – the master of man and sea – lighting strikes the hut. It sends Moana a vision from the distant past and has her commune with the last Tautai, who warns her of a terrible threat. There is a mysterious island called Motufetu that connects all of the Polynesian islands together but it is guarded by a jealous God of Storms. In order for her to defeat the god and open this important island up again, she’s going to have to go on another go-for-broke mission, this time recruiting members of her tribe – including a young woman who designs and maintains the ship named Loto, an elder statesman of the community responsible for the vegetables named Kele and a young storyteller (and Maui fanboy) named Moni. Oh and Hei-Hei the very dumb chicken and her pig pal Pua (now sporting an adorable tiny tusk) also make the trek.

Along the way, they encounter the Kakamora, the little coconut creatures and a giant clam with dangling, Lovecraftian tentacles. One of the Kakamora ships is consumed by the beast and Moana and her crew try to get away before being poison-darted by the Kakamora. While we didn’t see the footage of this, apparently one of the Kakamora, named Kotu, also joins the quest to find Motufetu and defeat the God of Storms. As you do.

But where’s Maui? Well, this is a good question. And there was a notable absence of Maui in the footage that was screened at Annecy, but before the presentation ended, Derrick and Hand showed a brief clip that involved everybody’s favorite demigod.

In the sequence Maui (once again voiced by Dwayne Johnson) is seen in some kind of cave, next to a large pearl (our guess this is the inside of the hulking clam that was threatening Moana in an early sequence). Maui is being taunted by a largely unseen presence, who talks about how him making Moana a wayfinder has proved a larger threat to their plan. (This unseen presence, voiced by an as-yet-unidentified Australian actress, works for the God of Storms.) There’s something going on in this scene, because Maui is saying that he only used Moana to get his magic hook back. There’s no emotion or sentimentality there. Maybe he’s trying to protect her? It’s a really interesting scene and speaks to the complicated interpersonal dynamics that they are going for in “Moana 2.”

“Moana 2” was, of course, adapted from a TV series that was originally meant to go directly to Disney+. When Disney executives saw the footage coming in (and heard the songs), they made the decision to turn what would have been a limited series into a movie. And there was nothing in the footage screened at Annecy that screamed “television.” If anything, this is a much bigger, more complicated movie, both visually and from a storytelling perspective.

Both Walt Disney Animation studios – the main hub in Burbank and the satellite studio in Canada – are being utilized for “Moana 2,” which tells you the ambition of the follow-up. (Derrick and Hand described it as “one studio, two locations.”) And that ambition was felt in the footage that was shown, with lush, fluid animation and an intriguing tale that feels like exactly the kind of follow-up people have been asking for.

It would be easy to write off the movie as a cynical corporate maneuver, deployed at a time when Disney stock was teetering precipitously. But what it was very clear from the presentation, both in terms of the passion of the filmmakers (who are joined on the film by a third director, Dana LeDoux Miller, who is also writing alongside Jared Bush) and the absolute gorgeousness of the animation, that they’re putting a heavy emphasis on quality here. What could have been a heartless cash grab is instead about the search for connection in an increasingly disconnected and lonely world, a concept both timeless and shockingly relevant. That line where the sea meets the sky? It’s “Moana 2.”

“Moana 2” opens in theaters on Nov. 27.

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