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Taika Waititi’s Rocky Road to Disney Dominance, From Moana to Thor 4

Taika Waititi has become Disney’s one-stop shop for successful movies and TV shows, but their first collab ended in failure.

For Disney, Taika Waititi is the gift that keeps on giving. From indie darlings to the biggest of blockbusters — in front of and behind the camera — the director has become the company’s one-stop shop for critically and commercially successful movies and TV shows. As his newest film Thor: Love and Thunder approaches, however, it’s worth remembering that his first big stint in the Mouse House was far from triumphant.

In the early 2010s, Waititi (fresh off the success of his under-the-radar indie charmer Boy) was brought in to write the first draft of a new Disney animated film that would become Moana. Unfortunately, mounting creative differences rendered the partnership untenable, forcing Waititi to throw in the towel and return to his native New Zealand. Virtually none of his work was used, and he doesn’t shy away from his negative feelings around that experience, telling The Guardian in 2017, “I basically didn’t want to be living here, working in an office, writing someone else’s movie.”

RELATED: Thor 4’s Christian Bale Had Never Heard of the MCU Before He Was Cast

Given his early failure with Moana, it’s not only surprising that Waititi would take on another big Disney project with 2017’s Thor: Ragnarok, but that he’d be allowed to inject it with his distinctive, quirky blend of irreverence and heart. Waititi transformed the Thor character into a much more comedic, lovable persona than he had been prior, a change that solidified the God of Thunder as one of the MCU’s most beloved heroes. This surprising, sudden shift cemented Waititi’s might within the industry and is representative of just how swiftly his style seeped into every inch of the Disney ecosystem.

After Thor: Love and Thunder, the filmmaker still has a Star Wars movie and a live-action Flash Gordon reboot on the horizon with the company. It’s not all about marquee franchises either: Disney’s 2019 purchase of Fox netted it his much smaller satire Jojo Rabbit (for which Waititi won the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay) and Shawn Levy’s Free Guy, in which Waititi portrays antagonist Antwan. Waititi also has a perfect batting average on TV, having directed an episode of The Mandalorian and serving various roles on three acclaimed shows for Disney-owned FX (What We Do in the Shadows, Reservation Dogs and, most recently, Our Flag Means Death). While Waititi is working on projects with other studios, his collaborations with Disney’s various branches have already come to define both his career and the company’s current vision.

RELATED: 10 Best Quotes From Our Flag Means Death

As for his botched swing at Moana, even that ended up a win-win for both parties. Waititi’s decision to give up on Moana freed him up to direct his cult 2014 mockumentary What We Do in the Shadows, which was adapted into the popular show that Disney would later inherit from Fox. Additionally, Waititi revealed he was only able to make it to the meeting that would net him the Thor: Ragnarok gig by using a visa he’d been granted while working on the animated flick. Who knows, maybe the story can truly come full circle and Waititi will contribute to Disney+’s upcoming Moana spinoff!

One thing’s for sure: Disney isn’t done betting on Waititi in 2022. In addition to Love and Thunder’s big launch on July 8th, Waititi’s voice can currently be heard in Pixar’s Lightyear, and he also wrote and directed this fall’s Next Goal Wins for Disney’s Searchlight Pictures. Given the sheer output of quality entertainment, it’s no surprise that he recently landed a spot on Time Magazine’s 2022 list of Most Influential People. Yet, Waititi’s ascent within Disney and the film industry as a whole is even more inspiring considering the bumpy start.

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