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Image: Supplied / Tina Tiller
Image: Supplied / Tina Tiller

October 28, 2022

A new generation of tamariki will sing ‘Waerea’ in place of ‘Let It Go’

Image: Supplied / Tina Tiller
Image: Supplied / Tina Tiller

The release of Disney’s Frozen Reo Māori is another triumph in the regeneration of Te Reo, featuring epic Māori talents and making history with the use of the Ngāi Tahu dialect in a movie for the first time ever. 

With the hype and success of Lion King Reo Māori still warm in the hearts of Māori and non-Māori audiences, the creative forces behind Matewa Media haven’t stopped to take a break. From Pride Rock to Arendelle, they’ve ploughed ahead with the urgency of reviving an endangered language, giving Disney’s world-famous Frozen the highly anticipated Te Reo treatment.

The most notable difference between the two is in the dialect. While Lion King Reo Māori utilised the Tainui dialect for the lions of Pride Rock, the Māori language version of Frozen appropriately shifts the focus to colder climes and the dialect of Ngāi Tahu, who are tangata whenua in Te Waipounamu.

In what is a remarkable, never-before-seen, odds-defying milestone for the dialect of Ngāi Tahu, their unique language has been represented on screen in film for the first time. 

The full cast of Frozen Reo Māori gathered from the premiere in Tāmaki Makaurau on Tuesday night. (Photo: Supplied)

“The most important thing is that we’re broadcasting our mita, we’re broadcasting a key aspect of our identity, a big part of who we are, out on a world stage,” says translator Kiringāua Cassidy. 

He worked behind the scenes on the Ngāi Tahu parts of the dialogue alongside an all-star Ngāi Tahu team of reo advocates; Hana O’Regan, Thomas Aerepo-Morgan, Karuna Thurlow and Charisma Rangipuna.

The Ngāi Tahu translators also worked alongside Rob and Cilla Ruha, Hana Mereraiha, Pere Wihongi and others on the songs for the film in a collaborative effort. 

The impact of colonisation of Te Waipounamu has been devastating for Ngāi Tahu, but over the years they’ve made exemplary gains in language revitalisation as part of a wider cultural and economic regeneration of the tribe.

Their renowned model of language regeneration, Kotahi Mano Kāika, Kotahi Mano Wawata, has been a reference point for other iwi and indigenous nations around the world. 

Established in 2000, the strategy set out the aspiration of having one thousand Ngāi Tahu homes speaking the dialect by 2025. 

“My parents didn’t grow up with Te Reo, however, they are graduates of Te Panekiretanga o Te Reo — The School of Māori Language Excellence. My siblings and I are products of that, we’re all first-language speakers of Te Reo within the Kotahi Mano Kāika strategy,” says Cassidy. 

Kiringāua Cassidy (front) with Thomas Aerepo-Morgan, Hana Mereraiha, Hana O’Regan, Tweedie Waititi, Chelsea Winstanley and Rob Ruha. (Photo: Supplied)

“The deeper meaning behind the strategy is for us to always have something to pursue, to dream about. When one generation passes away, a new generation comes forth. We carry on to find new things to dream of.”

Hearing his dialect in a movie for the first time reflects the tireless efforts of those within Ngāi Tahu who have committed their lives to language regeneration. “I was talking to Aunty Hana, she was saying she would never have dreamed that this would have happened, that a movie would have the main dialect in Kai Tahu.”

Te Reo from a cold climate

The most notable difference of the Ngāi Tahu dialect is the use of the ‘k’ sound in place of the ‘ng’ used by many tribes in the North Island. The movie incorporates colloquial sayings, with one line in particular stands out which is, “Aoraki matatū ake nei”. 

“That saying derives from our mauka, telling us we should stand strong like Aoraki does, no matter what, we keep our heads up and carry on,” says Cassidy. 

For him, the successful release of the film represents the turning of the tide which is an ongoing intergenerational responsibility to normalise Te Reo. “Our tamariki and mokopuna to come, they won’t know a world that didn’t have the Māori content that we have now, all of the resources that we have now with three Disney movies, our own TV shows, our Māori social media networks, they won’t know anything different to what the new status quo is. That’s going to have a massive impact on tamariki Māori across the country and of course the future of Kai Tahu.”

At the premier on Tuesday, hundreds of whānau packed out Event Cinemas in Newmarket, Tāmaki Makaurau, in a strong show of support for Matewa Media and its creative powerhouse team, lead by Tweedie Waititi and Oscar-nominated producer Chelsea Winstanley.

Tamariki were dressed in theme and Te Reo could be heard flowing naturally throughout the foyer across multiple generations. The hype and excitement carried through to the cinemas, where Māori kids and their parents exclaimed in awe at the remarkable display of Te Reo on screen in familiar and new sayings – and of course, the singing.

Oscar-nominated producer Chelsea Winstanley with a cluster of Frozen Reo Māori’s target audience. (Photo: Supplied)

Frozen Reo Māori brings together an all-star cast of Māori actors and singers, growing an ecosystem of performers, a Disney Reo Māori whānau. 

Known widely for her role as the lead voice actor in Disney’s Moana Reo Māori, Jaedyn Randell (Tainui) returns to take up the lead role of Anna in Frozen Reo Māori.

“The feeling is the same and I’m still very grateful to be part of it. Now, I’ve grown up a bit and have a bit more experience. Whereas Moana was young and grew into her wahine toa persona, Anna is quite a mature character and I’ve matured a lot since Moana so it was a natural transition between the two,” says Randell. 

Her delivery, as both voice actor and singer in the animated musical, is flawless. Her confidence and experience comes through naturally as she makes the character her own.

“Working with Rob Ruha is always fun, we’ve worked together a few times so we can communicate well, I know what he’s asking for, which I love. It was cool trying to portray that excitement in her voice, so even if people don’t speak Te Reo they know what emotions she’s expressing,” says Randell. 

Awhimai Fraser and Jaedyn Randell star as the movie’s reo-speaking and singing Elsa and Anna. (Photo: Supplied)

Being at the premier to celebrate the achievements of cast and crew with friends and whānau made it that much more meaningful.

“It was really humbling. I love that they cheer in the cinema. It’s not just awkward and quiet, it’s so cool. The audience cheer for the waiata and when their whānau come up on the screen. It’s such a nice atmosphere,” says Randell. 

It didn’t take long for the kids to pick up the songs either, proving the impact.

“By the second chorus, the main song by Elsa’s character, all the tamariki were already singing ‘Waerea’, so that was really cute. Seeing them in their outfits and taking over the cinema was special because it’s for them,” says Randell. 

Accomplished actor Awhimai Fraser (Waikato, Ngāi Tāmanuhiri, Ngāti Pūkenga) stars as Elsa, bringing the actor’s singing skills to the fore with moving renditions of the famous Frozen anthems such as Let It Go, rendered masterfully as ‘Waerea’.

Māori opera singer Kawiti Waetford (Ngāti Wai, Ngāti Hine, Ngāti Rangi, Ngāpuhi) convincingly took up the role of the male lead, ice harvester Kristoff, demonstrating his acting range and Te Reo skill as the playful but reliable companion for Anna.

Pere Wihongi (Te Taitokerau, Ngāpuhi), who goes by the artist name PERE, makes their Disney actor debut as the comical snow-person Olaf. A masterful musical composer and performer, Wihongi played a key role in Lion King Reo Māori as a vocal and singing coach and is also a tutor of Angitu Kapa Haka. He brings to life the Māori language speaking Olaf, providing the necessary comedic and giving a uniquely Māori feel to the character, as if Te Reo was always Olaf’s first language.

With actors from tribes outside of Ngāi Tahu, Kiringāua Cassidy acknowledged their skill and ability to do his dialect justice. 

“They did really well, they did amazingly with keeping up with our mita. Specific words here and there, not just a ‘k’ for ‘ng’. I’m really proud of what the cast achieved to express what our translation crew have been translating this whole time. It was awesome,” says Cassidy. 

Frozen Reo Māori opened in cinemas yesterday and is sure to be a hit with Māori language speaking toddlers and small children around the country, who get to hear their language represented on screen, yet again, in one of the most popular films of our time.

Despite many people encouraging Māori over the years to “let it go”, te reo Māori is arguably more visible and accessible than ever. 

In terms of the normalisation of Te Reo and showcasing its unique dialects, in this case that of Ngāti Tahu, Frozen Reo Māori is a reason to celebrate by all who call this country home.

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