Disney stunned fans this week by revealing plans for a theatrical sequel to its wildly popular 2016 animated film “Moana.” The surprise announcement came directly from Disney CEO Bob Iger, who shared that “Moana 2” will hit the big screen on November 27, 2024.
The news marks an abrupt change of course for the project, which Disney had originally envisioned as a television series follow-up to explore the further adventures of the plucky Polynesian princess. However, Mr. Iger was reportedly so impressed by early development footage that he made the executive decision to elevate “Moana 2” to a full-fledged feature film release.
“‘Moana’ remains an incredibly popular franchise, especially on Disney’s streaming service,” Mr. Iger told CNBC in a statement. “We can’t wait to give moviegoers more of Moana and Maui when the sequel comes to theaters this November.”
The original “Moana” followed the titular teenage heroine, voiced by Hawaiian actress Auli’i Cravalho, as she embarked on a daring voyage across the Pacific to save her people and rediscover her island’s proud legacy of exploration and navigation. Joined by the boisterous demigod Maui (Dwayne Johnson), Moana defied her overprotective father’s wishes and traveled beyond the reef, overcoming harrowing challenges to ultimately restore harmony between humanity and nature.
A global box office sensation, “Moana” earned nearly $700 million worldwide and ushered in a new Disney renaissance of groundbreaking animated musicals that centered the stories and cultures of traditionally underrepresented communities. The beloved film’s empowering coming-of-age tale, lush visuals, and earworm songs like “How Far I’ll Go” resonated deeply with audiences of all backgrounds.
Following its theatrical run, “Moana” found an even wider fanbase on Disney’s streaming platforms. Last year, the company revealed that viewers had streamed over 1 billion cumulative hours of the film — a staggering achievement that speaks to its enduring cross-generational appeal.
Plot details for the sequel are still under wraps, but Disney teased that “Moana 2” will “take audiences on an expansive new voyage with Moana, Maui and a brand-new crew of unlikely seafarers.” After hearing a “unexpected call from her wayfinding ancestors,” the studio says Moana “must journey to the far seas of Oceania and into dangerous, long-lost waters for an adventure unlike anything she’s ever faced.”
Dave Derrick Jr. has been tapped to direct, while Grammy-winning duo Abigail Barlow and Emily Bear will compose new music alongside returning “Moana” songwriters Opetaia Foa’i and Mark Mancina. The project notably lacks the involvement of Lin-Manuel Miranda, who penned the iconic tunes for the first film but is not expected to contribute new numbers this time around.
Beyond its strong streaming performance, Mr. Iger’s decision to elevate “Moana 2” to theatrical status makes shrewd business sense after Disney’s rocky start at the 2023 box office. While Marvel’s “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania” has grossed over $460 million globally to date, several of the studio’s other big-budget tentpoles like “The Marvels,” “Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny,” and “Haunted Mansion” have fallen far short of expectations.
Disney’s animation arm in particular has struggled, with the recent fantasy “Wish” earning a paltry $39 million at the domestic box office amid scathing reviews. While Pixar’s “Elemental” ultimately rebounded to a respectable $496 million worldwide after facing its own early hurdles, the studio is clearly hoping “Moana 2” can rekindle some of the first film’s surefire magic and box office might.
Interestingly, “Moana 2” will operate entirely separately from Disney’s planned live-action remake, which is in active development with Johnson returning as the boisterous Maui. Cravalho, who voiced the title character in the original animated version, will serve as an executive producer but will not reprise her starring role. The young actress said last year that she was confident the filmmakers would “find the next actress to portray Moana’s courageous spirit, undeniable wit and emotional strength” in the real-world reimagining.
With its November 2024 release now just over a year away, all eyes will be on whether “Moana 2” can successfully recapture lightning in a bottle and steer Disney’s theatrical ship in a more favorable direction. If the response to the first film was any indication, Iger and company can expect smooth sailing and clear horizons ahead.