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Meet MOANA’s Entertaining Animal Sidekicks: Heihei The Rooster And Pua The Pig
Michael John Lee on Sep 07, 2016. Posted in Editorials, Featured, Movies
Animal sidekicks have a long history of entertaining audiences in Disney films, and their upcoming new film, “Moana” is no stranger to that tradition, with two particular critters weaving their way deeply into the narrative: Heihei the rooster and Pua the pig.
Of all the characters in the film, Heihei went through arguably the most drastic evolution. When he was initially conceived, he was a highly intelligent bird with a sly, crafty grin. He essentially gave the impression of someone who would be scheming and plotting from the sidelines, biding his time in the shadows, and generally giving off a very Jafar vibe. But while he was a part of the “Moana” cast from the beginning, he never proved to be as funny as his creators had hoped for, making it increasingly difficult to justify his presence as the script went through revisions. As story artist Sunmee Joh describes, he was originally a hotshot with an abundance of attitude, and as a vigilant watchdog, he was mean and judgmental towards others.
ALAN TUDYK, Walt Disney Animation Studios’ lucky charm (“Zootopia,” “Wreck-It Ralph,” “Big Hero 6”), is behind the voice of HEIHEI, a dumb rooster who accidently stows away on Moana’s canoe. ©2016 Disney. All Rights Reserved.
But directors Ron Clements and John Musker wanted to find a way to save him from the proverbial chopping block, and so the writers and storyboard artists scrambled over a frantic 48-hour period. Eventually, it was decided that an extreme makeover of his personality could find a place for him in the finalized script. To these ends, his IQ was literally dialed down (we’re guessing by 80 to 100 points), so that he was a bumbling, mindless animal driven by instinct. Looking at before and after pictures of Heihei, his transformation is instantly noticeable: prior to his mindwipe, he is cocksure and slightly smarmy; immediately after, he is a blank slate with eyes wandering in opposite directions. Executive producer and chief creative officer John Lasseter was impressed with the overhaul, proclaiming, “Heihei is saved!” The staff immediately celebrated with, ironically, a fried chicken lunch.
But as John points out, it wasn’t enough to simply make Heihei dumb–his lack of intelligence had to serve the story. And so he is positioned as a stowaway on Moana’s journey who frequently gets under foot and complicates her mission, thus giving him a comfortable place in the comedy of the movie. Firefly alum Alan Tudyk lends his voice talents to articulate the character’s random sounds, having been a part of Disney’s last four animated features, “Wreck-It Ralph,” “Frozen,” “Big Hero 6,” and “Zootopia.”
John Musker claims that Heihei “may be the dumbest character in the history of Disney animation.”
PUA is Moana’s loyal pet pig with puppy energy and an innocent puppy brain. ©2016 Disney. All Rights Reserved.
The other animal sidekick of note is Pua, Moana’s pet pig. With his teeny tiny body, oversized head, floppy ears, and puppy dog movement, he delivers an immense adorableness factor to viewers. Referring to their island research excursions, Ron Clements noted, “There are many pigs that we encountered in our trip, and we had to put one in the movie.” This proved to be a good decision, as assembled members of the press immediately lost their minds with cuteness overload when test footage of a frolicking Pua was played. As in Pocahontas, the animals of Moana are not anthropomorphized, and so Pua conveys his emotions strictly through motion and expression.
As with Heihei, Pua’s role went through changes, though his alterations were focused on story placement rather than SAT scores. Originally, Pua was at Moana’s side throughout her journey. But as the script was refined, it became clear that he was a bit of a security blanket, and that from a dramatic storytelling perspective, he could better serve Moana’s story with his absence. By leaving him behind, Moana’s isolation and alienation are emphasized, and audiences are able to feel her homesickness that much more.
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