In classic Disney fashion, Moana is packed to the gills with memorable and funny side characters, but certainly one of the funniest is Hei Hei -- the incredibly dumb rooster played by Alan Tudyk. While he never actually talks, his impressive stupidity regularly lends to some of the movie's funniest moments. He is just about guaranteed to become a fan-favorite for years to come... which is why it might surprise you to learn that he was almost cut because he initially just didn't work within the story being told.
I learned about the story of Hei Hei and his near meetup with the cutting room floor when I had the pleasure of sitting down with Moana directors Ron Clements and John Musker earlier this month during the film's Los Angeles press day. While discussing Alan Tudyk's role in the movie (having featured in every Walt Disney Animation Studios film since Wreck It Ralph, I learned from the two filmmakers that there was a point when the team almost decided to remove Hei Hei completely. Of course, at that time he was a very different character than the one audiences have grown to love on the big screen. Said Musker,
He was going to be in the film from the earliest, because we went to the islands, we saw roosters everywhere. It was going to be in the film, however, his spot in the story was threatened, because he wasn't coming off, the old version, he's kind of cranky and ornery, but he didn't serve the story too much, so it's almost, you could take him out and the story didn't change... So, it was a question. 'Why do you even have the rooster? Get rid of the rooster.'
Fortunately for us, this wasn't something that the Moana animators were too keen on doing. It turns out that they had grown attached to Hei Hei, and while there was talk from John Lasseter about axing the character entirely, they worked hard to try and keep him in the movie. What ultimately became the key to the entire situation was an idea from story artist Ryan Green, and a way to use the rooster in a special way during the action sequence with the coconut-shaped Kakamora. Said the directors:
John Musker: One of our story guys, Ryan Green, came up with this idea. He did a drawing of Hei Hei as he existed, and did a drawing next to it and he took an IQ meter and dropped it right on him. He drew the eyes, and he said, 'I think this is funny!' And then he did a bunch of gag set-ups, if you made him stupid, what he could do, and it became more of an asset.
Ron Clements: The biggest idea that sold it, I think, there were many ideas, but the biggest one was the Kakamora sequence. It was very much like it is in the movie, except at the point where Hei Hei swallows the Heart of Te Fiti, it was just that one of the Kakamora got the Heart of Te Fiti and ran back to his boat, and Moana went after him. Everything that happened still happened, but it was all funnier!
Do you think that the Moana directors and animators ultimately made the right choice? Hit the comments section below with your thoughts, and in case you haven't seen it yet, you can check out the new Walt Disney Animation Studios film in theaters now.