Editor’s note: Shelly is still not 100%. But she hopes to be back up-to-speed by this time next week so that Fab News can then resume its usual weekly publication schedule here on MiceChat. But in the meantime, Jim Hill will continue to cover for his ex-wife.
Soooo … Instead of Fab News this week, how about some abs-related news?
Quick question: When you were handing out trick-or-treat candy earlier this week, did anyone wearing this outfit happen to come by your house?
I’m betting not. Largely because this Maui Halloween costume was only on store shelves for a relatively short amount of time. Right after the first wave of “Moana” merch hit retail outlets in mid-September, The Walt Disney Company issued a recall for this outfit. Largely because members of the Polynesian community declared that this costume depicting that demigod dishonored their culture.
Mind you, what’s really ironic about all this is that Disney Consumer Products and Interactive Media only decided to create a Maui Halloween costume because this character (who is voiced by Dwayne Johnson) had gotten such a strong reaction at “Moana” test screenings.
According to company insiders that I’ve spoken with, what test audiences really liked about Maui was:
- This “Moana” character is ridiculously strong & buff.
- Maui’s body is covered (SPOILERS AHEAD) with living tattoos, including one called Mini-Maui. Who basically acts as this demigod’s conscience.
- Johnson’s supremely confident/drolly comic vocal performance as Maui made this “Moana” character someone that little boys really wanted to emulate / imitate.
And given that Halloween costumes based on similarly-buff-characters-with-strong-personalities (EX: The Thor, Captain America & Hulk outfits that the Disney Store has sold for the past 5 years which feature faux muscles & abs) have been big sellers with small boys … Well, to Disney Consumer Products and Interactive Media’s way of thinking, making sure that there was a Maui costume available for purchase for this past Halloween was kind of a no-brainer. After all, there was sure to be consumer demand for an outfit based on this character. So why not meet this demand head-on?
The only problem was … The folks at DCPIM weren’t aware of what Ron Clements and John Musker (i.e., the directors of “Moana”) had gone through on their previous Walt Disney Animation Studios production, 2009’s “The Princess and the Frog.”
Mind you, when this project was first announced back in March of 2007 (at the annual shareholders meeting. Which – that year – was held in New Orleans as The Walt Disney Company’s way of showing its support for the people along the Gulf who’d been so badly battered by Hurricane Katrina), this movie had a different name: “The Frog Princess.”
More to the point, this Musker & Clements movie was originally supposed to have had a very different heroine. Instead of the earnest Tiana, that hard-working young lady who dreamed of someday opening her own restaurant, “The Frog Princess” was originally going to be built around the comic mis-adventures of Maddy. Who was a 19 year-old chambermaid to one Charlotte La Bouff, a spoiled 18 year-old southern debutante.
Mouse House managers clearly thought that the world would immediately embrace this project, largely because it was built around Disney’s first-ever African American princess. Instead, the Company found itself inundated with complaints & concerns about “The Frog Princess.” With people taking Mickey to task for everything from the title character’s name (Depending on who you talk to, Maddy was either a slave name or sounded just a little too much like Mammy) or her profession (Never mind that Lady Tremaine had forced Cinderella to work as a servant in her own home. People online were outraged that Disney’s first African American princess was going to be that Hollywood cliché: the maid to a rich, spoiled, self-centered girl).
Three months after Randy Newman had stood onstage at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center and given Disney shareholders a taste of “The Frog Princess” ‘ score, this Ron & John film had a brand-new title: “The Princess and the Frog.” Not only that, but Maddy the maid was gone. Disney’s first-ever African American Princess was now called Tiana. And because the Company was so concerned that this character now be seen as a proper role model for young girls … Well, according to folks who actually worked on “The Princess and the Frog,” a lot of the fun gradually bled out of this Walt Disney Animation Studios production after it was renamed. Largely because Disney didn’t want to do anything that might then provoke a second wave of concerned e-mails, letters and phone calls.
But Musker & Clements? They definitely came away from their “Princess and the Frog” production experience determined to never again be blindsided by cultural awareness-related issues. To accidentally make some sort of cultural misstep that would then color the way people would view their next motion picture. Which is why – for “Moana” – they spent a full five years studying the islands of the Pacific. Even going so far as to assemble an Oceanic Story Trust, a team of experts on the region which included anthropologists, academics, educators, linguists, master navigators and cultural advisors.
And Ron & John? They actually invited the Oceanic Story Trust to help out with the creation of “Moana.” because Musker & Clements wanted this tale which was set in the Southern region of Oceania to be as authentic AND entertaining as it possibly could be.
To hear Osnat Shurer — the producer of “Moana” — talk, the creative team pretty much gave the Oceanic Story Trust carte blanche when it came to this motion picture’s level of authenticity. Allowing this group of experts to influence everything “ … from the story, to the look of the environments, to the characters. Everything – from how Moana’s canoe looks and functions, to plants on the islands, to the material used in their clothing – (there wasn’t an aspect of this motion picture that wasn’t) deeply influenced by our advisors.”
“So if Disney had so many cultural experts consulting on ‘Moana,’ how did the Company end up in hot water when it came to that Maui Halloween costume ?,” you ask. It’s simple, really. The Walt Disney Company is a very large corporation with many different divisions. And these various different divisions – while they may share the Disney name – don’t always share the same agenda.
And when it came to Disney Consumer Products and Interactive Media, they typically like to have a full line of retail products that then key off of the new characters that will be featured in the studio’s next tentpole in stores at least a full six weeks before that film opens in theaters because … Well, there’s a belief in-house that this first line of products helps raise awareness of that new motion picture. Makes people excited about what the Mouse is next bringing to the marketplace.
And since “Moana” was due to open in theaters on November 23, if you count back six weeks from that, Halloween (which has become a huge retail holiday over the past 10 years. Secondly only to Christmas in the U.S.) is just sitting there right in the middle of this movie’s initial retail window. Offering the Company a truly golden opportunity to sell some “Moana” -themed Halloween costumes to Disney fans before they’ve even actually seen this new Ron & John movie.
And these DCPIM people … They were armed with research. Not the stuff that the Oceanic Story Trust had given Musker & Clements, but their own research. Which showed that the people who’d been to those early “Moana” screenings had just loved Maui. And since one of the things that audience members had really loved about this “Moana” character was his living tattoos … Well, if the Company was going to make a Maui Halloween costume, of course this outfit (which would have the same faux musculature as those best-selling Marvel superhero costumes) would have to feature those same sort of tribal markings that Maui had in the movie.
In hindsight, Disney should have realized that the character of Maui was something of a minefield. Given that – back in June – there were all these stories coming out of New Zealand complaining that Disney artists had made this “Moana” character too fat.
Mind you, what was really ironic about this complaint was that – back in January of 2014 – Mouse House managers were repeatedly asked to comment on an online petition that asked Walt Disney Animation Studios to produce a film that featured a plus-size princess. To date, over 37,000 people have signed that petition. And yet – in this same window of time – there were dozens of stories where people complained about Maui being obese.
It’s at moments like this where I wonder whether Musker & Clements were just born under a bad sign. Looking back over the 30 years that they’ve been making movies for the Mouse Factory, it’s hard to remember a Ron & John movie that didn’t have a wee bit of controversy associated with it. Whether it was that supposed disgruntled artist who snuck a phallic symbol onto the cover of the original “Little Mermaid” VHS box or how the Arab Anti-Defamation League convinced the Company to change the lyrics of “Aladdin” ‘s opening song, “Arabian Nights,” from …
Oh, I come from a land
From a faraway place
Where the caravan camels roam.
Where they cut off your ear
If they don’t like your face
It’s barbaric, but hey, it’s home.
Where it’s flat and immense
And the heat is intense,
It’s barbaric, but hey, it’s home.
But as Donald Trump and/or Kim Kardashian have proven time & time again, these days, there’s no such thing as bad publicity. So as far as The Walt Disney Company is concerned, it’s honestly okay if you’re offended because you think Maui is fat. Just as long as – as part of your protest — you then buy enough tickets to “Moana” to make sure that this new Walt Disney Animation Studios release turns into a big fat hit.
And speaking of stories that related to the Islands, the Fabulous Disney Babe (who spent her formative years in Hawaii) should be sturdy enough next week to start writing her own columns again.
As for me, I’ve enjoyed filling in for Shelly these past few weeks by covering her Fab News column. Thanks to all you MiceChatters for being so welcoming. And I guess I’ll see you guys around the Web.
I’m not Hawai’an, but I lived there (with a couple breaks) from 1983-2007, so I’m looking forward to seeing Moana. I want to thank Jim Hill for the heavy lifting while I’ve been recuperating. You’re the best ex-husband a gal could ask for…and I hope you won’t be a stranger to MiceChat! I still have a few weeks before I can ride Hyperspace Mountain, but I’m moving along nicely. I’ll start working my way back.