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Alberto E. Rodriguez - © 2016 Getty Images

Alberto E. Rodriguez – © 2016 Getty Images

How a Little Mermaid fanboy went on to become Disney’s go-to guy!

Growing up just like us on a steady Disney diet, a young Lin-Manuel Miranda fell in love with music when he watched Ron Clements and John Musker’s The Little Mermaid and now he’s the lyricist on their latest animated picture Moana!

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During the press tour for the film, he shared his excitement with journalists about joining the Disney family and how it all started before Hamilton“I’ve been working on this film for two years and seven and a half months and I got this job the same day I found out I was going to be a father. My son was born two weeks before rehearsal started for Hamilton at the Public off-Broadway. I’ve been working on this since before Hamilton opened, concurrently with Hamilton as we went through previews and then through Hamilton since we opened.”

So while the world turned upside down when Hamilton became a pop culture phenomenon, Miranda was working on Moana in the wings. “It actually became my oasis of calm.”, he described, “I prioritized writing this story. I would meet with our creative team every Tuesday and Thursday at 5:00 p.m. my time, 2:00 p.m. your time and sometimes they’d see me in my 18th century blouse because I had a curtain at 7:00. It forced me to say ‘no’ to things, but I could say ‘yes’ to Moana and during previews it was a great break.” Fans of the show who follow his tweets and probably every social media move he makes know this. In his advice, he’d often share that sometimes you have to have less fun with friends during the hustle in order to make your dreams happen. And now he’s signed on to two more Disney films: the live action Little Mermaid feature in early development and up next the Mary Poppins sequel he’s co-starring in with Emily Blunt.

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Miranda admitted that working on Moana kept him grounded during the craziness of 2014-2015. “If I was sick of the founders rapping I would go sail across the sea with Maui and Moana, it was the counterweight to the Hamilton phenomenon and it was also sort of an island of peace when the Hamilton stuff started getting crazy in terms of crowds and in terms of attention.” he said. “I’m really grateful for Moana, because it kept me writing at a time when, you know, the world was really paying attention.” 

As soon as his run as Alexander Hamilton ended on Broadway earlier this year, his relationship with Disney allowed him to jump into his next projects. After a family vacation, Miranda and family immediately moved to London to prep for production on Poppins and hop into press for Moana. He actually got to see the final version of the film the day before major interviews were conducted and realized when the credits rolled how real his dream finally was. “I was very moved in the closing credits which we saw at the screening. Disney has a tradition of listing the names of all the children born over the course of making a movie and seeing my son’s name at the top of that list–that was sort of the really crazy full circle moment for me.”

A long way from being that kid watching The Little Mermaid over and over again, the Disney fan at heart reacted like any of us would working with our heroes. He recalled his first meeting with Ron Clements and John Musker for Moana“When I first interviewed for this job, I walked into a room with Ron and John, makers of my favorite Disney film of all time and I said, ‘You’re the reason I even get to walk into this room’ and so, and I think I probably scared them a little bit because I’d quote some obscure section of Little Mermaid they had since forgotten about.” Which to be honest we would too. 

“I love those movies and you want to maintain the best of the Disney traditions. At the same time, we’re telling this very unique story from this very unique part of the world.” he said of being a part of the diverse team behind Moana, which brings to the screen a lovely coming of age tale centered around the culture and lore of the Pacific Islands. Hailing from a Puerto Rican family, Miranda is no stranger to the themes in Moana about holding true to where you come from as you go forward in life. “My way into Moana, in particular was, you know, the way she feels the call of the sea is the way I felt about writing music and making movies and singing songs and I was 16 years old and living on 200th Street in Manhattan and thinking, the distance between where I am and where I want to be seems impossibly large and so I got myself into that mindset to write her songs.”

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While his legion of fans eagerly cheer him on as he’s living major career goals, Miranda always makes sure to remind them of ways to make their dreams come true. Just like he started singing and dancing to The Little Mermaid, lots of future creative kids (and adults/me) now channel Hamilton to learn their way around their craft.

His best advice to fans who fervently quote and find inspiration from his work?

Miranda shared, “Keep writing. Don’t stop writing. I think of writing as when you start writing you’re turning on a faucet and when you turn on a faucet the water’s brown and it’s full of whatever’s just been in there and clogged up and waiting to come out and then you just keep writing and writing until the water’s clear and that’s when you find your own voice.”

And maybe when that voice is distilled, it could lead to the same sort of meeting he had with his heroes.

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Sabina Ibarra

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