WINDOW ROCK, AZ. – It all starts with a smile then a burst of laughter.
A sure sign there are children nearby.
There’s nothing like seeing through the prism of young eyes who provide a dimension of angelic shimmer to the room.
So if you want to ensure there is an element of joy and excitement in the air….make sure to include children…animation, music and the Navajo language to your list then see magic come alive.
And that’s exactly what the Navajo Nation Museum is doing as exemplified in their second major film – Finding NEMO in the Navajo language that was masterfully produced by Walt Disney Studios and proficient-speaking Navajos.
Reflecting on the Museum’s most recent success of Star Wars in Navajo, Navajo Nation Museum Director Manuelito Wheeler wondered if there was more to this story.
He explained that he wanted to continue excitement among the Navajo people especially among the Navajo youth. It appeared that slowing down was not an option.
“I saw how excited the children were when they watched Star Wars and I wanted to keep the momentum going, Wheeler stated. “By producing another major motion picture in our language signifies the importance of maintaining the Navajo language. I wanted to recapture that spirit again.”
Little did Manuelito know that the Navajo Nation Museum and Hollywood would soon cross paths again…Perhaps it was karma. Long story short. Instead of spending countless hours knocking on producer’s doors not to mention the amount of money it would have cost to produce another major motion picture, the Navajo Nation Museum and Walt Disney Studios met each other half-way. And it was only a matter of time before a fresh take on a popular movie would make a triumphant return to Navajoland.
“Star Wars opened the door for the Navajo Nation,” Wheeler commented. “As soon as it was done, studios realized how important it was for us to maintain the Navajo language. I definitely knew the next movie had to be a children’s film.”
Manuelito said Finding NEMO in Navajo is specifically geared toward children, but that doesn’t mean other age groups will not enjoy it. In fact, he said if anything, he hopes it will be a delight and an adventurous film for the entire family.
Aside from generating interest and newfound popularity in the Navajo language among the young Navajo people, Manuelito hopes it will also spur notoriety and attention among the public at large who do not know about or the significance of the Navajo language.
Some of Finding NEMO’s major characters include NEMO who is played by Quinton Kien, Dory who is played by Natalie Benally and Marlin played by Andrew Harvey. Other prominently known Navajos include Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye, Navajo Nation Vice President Jonathan Nez and Entertainer Ernest David Tsosie. Production work was recorded in Burbank, California and at Knifewing Studios in Gallup, New Mexico.
“As you can see, the cast is a cross-section of diverse Navajo people,” explained Wheeler. “Over 50 Navajo voices were used. And the key to weaving it all together was the Navajo language.”
Manuelito said that the Navajo language and laughter are in integral part of traditional Navajo culture.
“The Navajo language is the foundation of who we are as a people,” Manuelito explained. “It is also the key to the preservation of our culture. Our elders teach us that the Navajo language is also sacred and we must continue speaking it to keep our prayers, songs and ceremonies in existence.”
It was no small feat, but the Navajo Nation Museum worked ardently with Navajo translators, Walt Disney Studios and the Navajo individuals who were selected as major characters to make Finding NEMO a magical mix of education and innovative imagination.
Wheeler stated. “When you have a room full of kids who are laughing, we know we have done our job to spark that interest in the Navajo language. There’s nothing like kids to get us motivated. Sometimes it takes children to help us truly appreciate the simple things in life.”
Albeit unconventional and amid all the comedy, Wheeler said there is also a serious side to NEMO in Navajo. He explained that NEMO is also about how to persevere in life.
“Who would’ve known that the Navajo language and modern-day entertainment would interweave so harmoniously,” he added. “The staff and I here at the Navajo Nation Museum are very honored and incredibly humbled to be a part of this second major movie that we hope will have a positive impact upon our people for generations to come.”
There was attention to detail by a team of people. The meticulously-assembled motion picture took many hours and days to perfect, but in the end, it was all worth it and beyond measure.
Just see the value of a smile and hear the laughter….priceless.
So when the birds began singing to signal a new season, get ready to immerse yourself into a harmonious choreography of education, fun and entertainment…let your inner child go free and embrace the world of imagination and adventure….the next dimension of Navajo culture on the big screen…a hallmark of prestigious distinction with a humble beginning.
Manuelito noted, it is hoped Finding Nemo in Navajo will be available for viewing across the country and copies of the movie will be sold in major retail outlets within the next several weeks as well as at the Navajo Nation Museum gift shop.
For more information, contact the Navajo Nation Museum at (928) 871-7941 – they can also be reached at www.navajonationmuseum.org via their facebook page.