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A trio to translate Disney's Moana into te reo Māori

University of Auckland trio join Matewa Media to translate Disney's Moana into te reo Māori

Three University of Auckland staff have translated the hit movie Moana into te reo so it can be screened in local cinemas for Te Wiki o Te Reo Māori (Māori Language Week, 11-17 September).

The popular animated movie tells the tale of a young Polynesian teenage girl who navigates the Pacific Ocean in a bid to save her island.

Katarina Edmonds and Waldo Houia are both lecturers at the University’s Faculty of Education and Social Work’s Te Puna Wananga (School of Māori and Indigenous Education) and their colleague, Vikky Demant, the faculty’s Marae Administrator who was first approached and then decided to join forces with Katarina and Waldo.

The trio worked long hours into the night to translate the script into te reo.

They worked alongside the New Zealand Producer Tweedie Waititi and actress and Performance Director Rachel House.

This would not have been possible if Executive Producer Taika Waititi didn't plant the seed at Disney studios back when he was involved in the early stages of the original Moana script.

It was Tweedie, along with producer Chelsea Winstanley, who drove the idea of a te reo Māori Moana.

"We sat around the dinner table a year ago and thought - wouldn't it be a good idea if our babies could watch Moana in te reo. For Taika, re-versioning films into te reo Māori has also been a vision of his and one day he hopes to reversion all of his films into te reo too,” Tweedie says.

And Katarina, Waldo and Vikky could see the potential of having this popular movie in te reo Māori.

“In writing the script in Māori there were challenges but they did not affect our motivation and desire to be part of this monumental and exciting task,” Katarina says.

“First and foremost we are all whanaunga from Te Whānau-ā-Apanui and Ngāti Porou. We didn’t even have a clear idea of what was ahead we just said ’yes’ because Tweedie had asked us. We knew and trusted that whatever she had in mind would be of great benefit to Māori and te reo Māori.”

In fact, they admit they hadn’t even seen the original Moana movie before they agreed to the translation.

“Vikky’s daughter, Kiritapu, got a copy for us to watch because we didn’t know how to access it. Then we watched as we started working on the script. She sang all the songs and giggled as she knew what was coming up.”

The trio would meet at either Tweedie’s house or studio, or Rachel’s house, who voices Moana’s grandmother, Gramma Tala, in the movie.

“The initial script took us three working weeks from 6pm -12pm to ensure we managed our own work commitments. Once the written script was done we were part of the editing process to enable duration and lip sync,” Katarina says.

“We’d have a kai and kōrero and get to work. We also had Te Urikore (Tweedie’s daughter) and Māui the dog in our midst. Before Te Urikore would go to bed we had Ringatū prayers and carried on working until 2.30am most nights. Sometimes one of us might fall asleep but one always carried on with Tweedie or Rachel.”

As they got into the script they had lots of fun with te reo Māori.

“The three of us bring different skills. Vikky keeps us grounded as the voice of te reo Māori in the home and natural Māori contexts, Waldo goes to sleep (so we thought) but he actually came up with gems of reo. He would sometimes sit up and out of the blue tell us a word, and expression or saying that was perfect for what we had been looking for. I was the driving force, the voice of reason and decision making,” Katarina says.

They often joined the team in the studio to monitor the reo to ensure continuity and support.

The project has also brought the group closer together.

While we have all known each other in various ways over time, this has brought us together professionally and personally where no one was more important than the other. We had lots of fun, fish and chips and other takeaways for dinner, and fabulous meals, manaakitanga, karakia – all those tikanga that being Māori is all about.”

The te reo Māori version of Moana will show in theatres around the country during Te Wiki O Te Reo Māori, which kicks off on September 11. More information is available on their facebook page.


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