To celebrate the dawn of Matariki the Māori language version of Moana has sailed on to Disney's streaming service Disney+.

For the people involved, Moana Reo Māori was a real passion project and meant a whole lot more than just lip service.

"For us it's a taonga, a treasure," producer Chelsea Winstanley says, "Our language is a treasure."

The idea to share this treasure with the world has fairly low-key origins and was sparked during a kitchen conversation between herself and Tweedy Waititi.

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"We're talking about, 'man, wouldn't it be amazing to provide a resource for our babies, our mokopuna and for anyone who wants to learn Te Reo Māori', because the great thing about Moana is it's full of gorgeous songs that stick with you. It seemed to be a no-brainer."

Film director and producer Chelsea Winstanley. New Zealand Herald photograph by Michael Craig.
Film director and producer Chelsea Winstanley. New Zealand Herald photograph by Michael Craig.

The pair knew they had a way in via Tweedy's brother and Winstanley's ex-husband and longtime movie collaborator, the director Taika Waititi, who wrote the first draft of Moana for Disney and was making Thor: Ragnarok on the Disney lot in Los Angeles at the time.

"We thought, wouldn't it be great if we could get in the door and have a conversation, just to see what they would say if we were to pitch them the idea of having our own language Moana Reo Māori?," Winstanley says. "Everything starts with an idea and we thought hey, why don't we just try?"

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Even though Winstanley is an Academy Award-nominated film producer she says she still felt a bit nervous when it came to crunch time and she found herself outside the boardroom door about to pitch the concept to a team of Hollywood execs.

"Because you look at Disney and you think: would they ever take us seriously? But they really embraced it," she says.

Many of the original cast, including Jemaine Clement, Rachel House and Temuera Morrison, returned to re-dub their characters into Te Reo Māori, while media personality Piripi Taylor stepped into the big shoes left by The Rock to voice the demigod Māui and newcomer Jaedyn Randell took over the lead role of Moana.

It took Winstanley and Tweedy around three months to shepherd the project to completion, from translating, to recording and mixing, she says, and she still recalls watching it for the first time.

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"It was such a proud moment, super-emotional," she smiles. "It's a struggle in and of itself to have Te Reo Māori be considered part of the mainstream menu when you turn on the television or you turn on the radio. It's not something we have front and centre most of the time. So it's almost a dream. And it's wonderful it's happening around Matariki because it's a time just to eat lots of food!"

Moana Reo Māori is now streaming on Disney+. Photo: Disney.
Moana Reo Māori is now streaming on Disney+. Photo: Disney.

She laughs and then wonderfully sums up the bigger picture of what Moana Reo Māori can offer all of us who call Aotearoa home.

"Most people don't realise there are so many wonderful things that come with language," she says. "It's not just on its own. It doesn't sit by itself. It comes with all the culture and tradition. That's so rich and sometimes I think we forget that. It's not just language. It's a whole package and it's beautiful."