How Lin-Manuel Miranda Juggled HAMILTON and Disney’s MOANA at the Same Time

Disclosure: Disney sponsored travel, accommodations, and activities during my stay in Los Angeles.

I am back with another fun MOANA experience from my time in Los Angeles!

So far, I have shared my experience on the red carpet3 excellent reasons why you should see the movie and my interview with Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.

Today, I’m sharing our interview with the AMAZING Lin-Manuel Miranda, who helped with the music score in Disney’s MOANA. 🌴

How Lin-Manuel Miranda Juggled HAMILTON and Disney’s MOANA at the Same Time


Three thousand years ago, the greatest sailors in the world voyaged across the vast Pacific, discovering the many islands of Oceania. But then, for a millennium, their voyages stopped – and no one knows exactly why. From Walt Disney Animation Studios comes MOANA, a sweeping, CG-animated feature film about an adventurous teenager who sails out on a daring mission to save her people. During her journey, Moana (voice of Auli‘i Cravalho) meets the mighty demigod Maui (voice of Dwayne Johnson), who guides her in her quest to become a master wayfinder. Together, they sail across the open ocean on an action-packed voyage, encountering enormous monsters and impossible odds, and along the way, Moana fulfills the ancient quest of her ancestors and discovers the one thing she’s always sought: her own identity. Directed by the renowned filmmaking team of Ron Clements and John Musker (“The Little Mermaid,” “Aladdin,” “The Princess & the Frog”), produced by Osnat Shurer (“Lifted,” “One Man Band”), and featuring music by Lin-Manuel Miranda, Mark Mancina and Opetaia Foa‘i.


You’re such a huge Disney fan.  What is it like to be a part of the Disney family now?

“It’s pretty dope. I’ve had a little Hollywood experience, and there’s nothing like the Disney story experience.  You sit at a table, the notes are from Jen Lee, the co-director of Frozen, from Pete Docter, who’s working on Inside Out, and did Big Hero 6.

Everyone who actually makes the movie are the ones who are kicking the tires in your story and making it better. That was my favorite part of the process. Getting to meekly raise my hand, and being like, I think a song could do that better. That was my way into the room. It’s been a real joy.”

How Lin-Manuel Miranda Juggled HAMILTON and Disney’s MOANA at the Same Time

What was the timeline as far as working on Hamilton, and Moana?  Were you working on them at the same time?

Yeah. This is the weird day that changed my life. I woke up one Wednesday, and my wife was off to on a plane to go to a business meeting somewhere else and she said, ‘I think you might be a father. I have to go to the airport.’ It was six in the morning and I was like, ‘that’s great — what?’  I called her at noon once her flight landed to confirm that I hadn’t dreamt the thing she told me and then I got the Moana offer — ‘cause I interviewed for the job.

Then that offer came with a plane ticket to New Zealand, where the rest of the creative team was already doing music research at this specific music conference in New Zealand. So, I didn’t see my wife, and then I got on a plane to New Zealand and I’m sitting with this secret that we’re five weeks pregnant. It was one of those insane, life-changing weeks.  So that was two years and seven months ago. I can remember it because my son turned two last week.

So, he’s been the marker of time for me. You know, it was a great oasis, during the writing of Hamilton, because any time I was sick of the founders, I’d go sail across the sea, over to Maui and Moana. We just built it into my crazy schedule. Tuesdays and Thursdays I didn’t do any press, I didn’t do any meetings, I just wrote all day because I would meet via Skype with the creative team at five p.m.

Then I would have my seven o’clock curtain. So, I did a lot of writing in the theater. A lot of the early demos are Phillipa Soo and Chris Jackson singing because they were my in-house band. I have a ton of Phillipa demos and calling on my friends, like I think you’ll hear on the deluxe edition. You’ll hear Marcy Harriell, singing a cut Moana song that was called “More”.  Marcy was my Vanessa for The Heights for many years. So, it was all hands on deck to help me demonstrate these songs.

How Lin-Manuel Miranda Juggled HAMILTON and Disney’s MOANA at the Same Time

What was your favorite song to write for Moana?

There’s a couple of songs. I’m really proud of ‘how far I’ll go.’  I literally locked myself up in my childhood bedroom at my parents’ house to write those lyrics. I wanted to get to my angstiest possible place.

I went method on that.  And really because it’s a challenging song. It’s not, ‘I hate it here, I want to be out there.’ It’s not ‘there must be more than this provincial life.’  She loves her island, she loves her parents, she loves her people, and there’s still this voice inside. I think finding that notion of listening to that little voice inside you and that being who you are.

Once I wrote that lyric, it first appears when Gramma Tala tells it to her, in the opening number, it then had huge story repercussions, like the screenwriters took that ball and ran with it and that was exciting to see. The give and take between the songs, and the story at large. But that was a real key to unlocking her. Really nailing that moment of — ‘it’s not about being miserable where you are and I related to that.

You know, I was 16 years old and I lived on 200th Street in New York, and I knew what I wanted to do for a living, and I knew where I was, and the gulf just seemed impossible. I mean, everything just seems so far when you’re that age. So that’s what tapped into to write that tune.

How Lin-Manuel Miranda Juggled HAMILTON and Disney’s MOANA at the Same Time

Is there anyone that you look up to?

So many. If I were to limit it just to Disney, I could talk to you for three hours about it. I think that’s how you figure out who you are, is you chase your heroes.  I chased Ashman Menken, I chased Sondheim. I chased Jonathan Larson, I chased Biggie, I chased Tupac. And in falling short of all of those, I end up with that style that is an accent I can’t hear. With Disney in particular, Howard Ashman is sort of the master of the lyric that is both iconic and conversational.

I think ‘part of your world,’ and you know, ‘look at this stuff,’ as she’s stumbling, and trying to find the words, you know? Those are the moments you chase as a songwriter because they’re the ones that really feel real. I chase that in Hamilton, when, ‘pardon me, are you Aaron Burr, sir,’ and ‘that depends who’s asking — oh, well, sure.’  

It just feels like the way people talk. That’s always what I’m chasing in a really good lyric. Then it helps you bridge that divide of these people bursting into song. That’s an impossible leap for a lot of people. People who don’t like musicals. Why aren’t they just talking? If you make the lyric feel really conversational, it’s much easier for them to bridge that gap.

MOANA arrives in theatres everywhere on November 23rd!

Disclosure: Disney sponsored travel, accommodations, and activities during my stay in Los Angeles.