Turning the Pages: The Art of Moana by Jessica Julius & Maggie Malone

art of moana

Disney never lets us down, and their latest animated feature, Moana was no exception. The film tells the story of the title princess, a spirited teenager who sails out on a daring journey to prove herself as a master wayfinder and fulfill her ancestors’ unfinished quest. Over the course of Moana’s adventure, she crosses paths with fantastic beings like the once-mighty demigod Maui and the shiny/evil Tomatoa, facing impossible odds to restore the heart of Te Fiti, the Mother Island.

Moana is a serious triple threat, bringing an engaging story, an incredible soundtrack (here’s looking at you, Lin-Manuel Miranda), and gorgeous art to the table. The latter is given the spotlight it deserves in a new book, The Art of Moana.

art of moana
Andy Harkness, digital

Written by Jessica Julius and Maggie Malone and published by Chronicle Books, it includes a preface by the legendary John Lasseter and a foreword by Ron Clements and John Musker. Their words offer interesting insight into how Moana came to be, including the the influences threaded in from the rich culture of the Pacific Islands, where the movie takes place. The filmmakers, Clements and Musker, detail their travels to Fiji to immerse themselves in the lifestyle, their own voyage actually changing the premise of the movie quite a bit. Sayings that they heard over and over again on their travels – Know your mountainThe ocean unites us, it doesn’t divide us – are reflected in the themes of identity and connectedness that are central to Moana.

Of course, the real appeal of this fascinating book is the art itself. Not to worry – there is an astonishing amount of it throughout the book. Clements and Musker’s travel stories are peppered with photographs and on-site sketches from their research trips, which show some of the real-world influences on the art of the film. Beyond that, readers are treated to sketches, concept art, storyboards, color keys, and so much more.

art of moana
Illustrations by Brittney Lee and Neysa Bové. (2-page spread)

The Art of Moana offers an incredible breakdown on the creative process for the major characters and locations viewers have fallen in love with. Readers will enjoy character sketches showing the evolution of Moana herself, as well as variations on her necklace – which is key to the story. Beyond that, a few of my favorite sections included the sketches for Heihei, Moana’s pig, Te Fiti, and Maui, who changed a lot since his inception as a character. (He used to be bald!) No matter which character or location is your fave, you’ll find an unparalleled behind-the-scenes look at its development in this book.

The Pacific Islands are home to a rich culture that many know little about, so I also loved seeing the real-world influences brought to each detail of Moana through the artwork. From the building styles on Motonui to the villagers’ hairstyles and tattoos, the filmmakers stayed as close to reality as possible throughout – and faithful to the spirit of the culture on the few occasions that they deviated for story purposes.




Seeing the interplay between culture and art, and how the two came together to make the magic happen in Moana, makes this book a must-read for any fan of the film.

Featured Image Courtesy of Chronicle Books

Chloe Palka

Senior Editor

Fangirl, avid reader, & Anglophile. Current obsessions include: Dylan O'Brien, Teen Wolf, Game of Thrones, brunch, SDCC, and gingerbread lattes. Not a queen, a Khaleesi. Contact: chloe@fangirlish.com.

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