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Like many who work in and around the cinema industry, I am currently in the middle of my summer holiday. More specifically, I am on the Hawaiian island of Kaua’i, known as the “Garden Island.”
It certainly couldn’t be called the cinema island, as the last full time movie theatre on Kaua’i closed in March of 2020, at the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic. The historic Waimea Theater on Kaua’i’s west side is now the only working cinema on the island, though it also hosts live theatre and community events. At one point, the island was home to 12 movie theatres.
Despite being in what might be mistaken for a “cinema desert,” the influence of the art form can be found everywhere. Take a tour of the Kipu Ranch and at some point you’ll be taken up to the Honopu Ridge to a very secure fence with lots of closed circuit cameras. You’ll be commended by your guide for being the only person in his seven year tenure to look down the long valley on Kipu Kai Beach far below with Kawelikoa Point hovering high above and instantly, without hesitation, ask, “Is this the land George Clooney’s family owned in ‘The Descendants’?” You’ll also go on to learn that “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” “King Kong,” and “Jurassic Park,” among many others, were also filmed on the ranch.
At that point your guide will probably ask you if you have visited, Manawaiopuna Falls, known as Jurassic Park Falls, due to their memorable appearance in the film. Like Kipu Kai Beach, the falls are on private land, only accessible to visitors through a private helicopter tour. “Jurassic Park,” comes up a lot when visiting Kaua’i since so much of the film and its sequels have been filmed on the island.
But so do plenty of other movies. As we picnicked after tubing down the Hanama’ulu Ditch on the Lihue Plantation, our guide called out to a beautiful cattle egret, by the name Kevin, that promptly ran up alongside him for a piece of cheese. I asked our native Hawaiian guides if they had really named the heron Kevin and the response was, “Yes, doesn’t he remind you of the bird from ‘Up?’ He’s just as crazy and he totally rocks that same kind of feather mullet.”
Yesterday however, on a catamaran cruise to the remote (and spectacularly beautiful) Na’pali coast, I had an opportunity to do a little unscientific cinematic market research. There were 50 passengers and three crew members on the sunset tour and as we pulled out of Port Allen into the Pacific Ocean the captain started playing music through some overhead speakers. Within a few measures of the first song all 50 passengers onboard began spontaneously singing, “We read the wind and the sky when the sun is high / We sail the length of the seas on the ocean breeze….”
I was really surprised so many knew the lyrics to the Polynesian portions of the song, “We Know the Way,” written by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Opetaia Foa’i.
It was the adults who first piped in, giving permission to everyone else, from the oldest grandparent to the youngest child, to sing at the top of their lungs as we bounced into the waves as if we were Moana herself; each person trying to out-sing those closest to them. “Aue, aue / We set a course to find/ A brand new island everywhere we roam…. ” Have you even lived if you haven’t stood on a sail boat with 50 people screaming the lyrics to a Hawaiian themed Disney song?
Rather than ask that question I set about answering a few others that immediately sprung to mind; How did everyone know that song? Did they know where the song came from? Had they seen the movie, and if so, when and where?” My fellow passengers came from New York City, Japan, Colorado, France, California, Washington, Florida, Australia and many other locations far and wide. I made the bold move to ask them, one by one, these very questions. Every single person, including the three crew members, named “Moana” as the source and all but two had seen the film when it was first in theatres. Indeed, once one person volunteered the name of the cinema where they saw the movie, almost everyone else after that did too.
On board the sail boat we were all so close together I was even able to do a follow up survey. Could anyone name a popular song from a Disney movie after “Moana?” Now that everyone was playing my “name that Disney movie” game they began to answer as a group. There was a long silence and lots of quizzical looks before someone asked, “When was ‘Frozen?’ Because I was going to say ‘Let It Be’.” Someone else quickly made the correction telling everyone the song was, “Let It Go,” and that “Frozen” had been released before “Moana.” There were long silences in between lots of questions about when “Wreck It Ralph” was released, if “Coco” had songs anyone could remember and if there were two or three sequels to “Cars.” With no cellular signal offshore, Google couldn’t come to the rescue.
“We Don’t Talk About Bruno,” a voice suddenly piped in from on high. It was the captain, one of the two who hadn’t seen “Moana,” answering from his position at the helm. “I haven’t seen that one either,” he added. Someone then asked, “What movie was that in?” There was a pause before one of my children, realizing nobody else was going to answer, exclaimed, “Encanto.”
After a collective, “Oh…. yeah…. that’s right” I asked 50 people and three crew members who had seen “Encanto.” “Was that the one on Netflix?” “No, it’s on Disney+, but I didn’t watch it yet.” “Oh, well maybe that’s why, I don’t have Disney+ anymore.” Only 14 adults had seen the film and five children; 19 out of 50. That is lower than those who had heard the chart topping “We Don’t Talk About Bruno” (42 out of 50), which was also written by Miranda.
You could argue that “Moana” has been available to the public for far longer than “Encanto” allowing more people to see it. You could also argue that one was released during a global pandemic. I would argue that the marketing campaign behind a popular theatrical release, like “Moana,” and its subsequent awards push worked far better than the campaign utilized for a title released directly to a streaming service amidst a glut of streaming content.
I had to end my survey at that point as I could tell the captain was getting annoyed with my impromptu focus group. Instead, he wanted to show everyone Honopu Beach where one of the “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies was filmed.
As the Kalalau Valley came into view, adjacent to the enormous picturesque cliffs known as The Cathedrals, the captain queued up the theme to “Jurassic Park” which prominently featured the same perspective of the Na’pali coastline. While my mind should have been focused on prehistoric dinosaurs, it finally hit me; all those little kids who I’d seen over the past two weeks chasing around the more than 500,000 wild chickens that live on Kaua’i weren’t trying to catch and eat them. They humorously kept calling each one of them “Drumstick” as they chased them through parking lots or beaches. Some shouted after the suddenly speedy foul, “Hey hey!” or so I thought.
In fact, these pre-and-elementary schoolers were calling the chickens “Heihei,” the name of the chicken in “Moana,” nicknamed Drumstick by Maui, the character voiced by Dwayne Johnson.
Now, let me tell you about the story behind the Kaua’i beach where “Six Days Seven Nights” was filmed…
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