Auli’i Cravalho

If I could handpick a friend for my girls, it would be Auli’i Cravalho, the now 16-year-old voice of Moana. Once you see Disney’s latest masterpiece, know that Auli’i, well she IS Moana. Beautiful, strong, talented and aware of that inner voice, see just why I would pick her in this exclusive interview from the Moana Event. I can’t think of a better way to introduce her than the way I first met Auli’i.

Can you share with us again, what was that like to hear that you were going to be Moana?

Sure. I was called into technically another audition where I was told I would need to do just some more adlib. And that was after I had already flown up to LA and I had done some recording up there. I had tried out the first time in my life in front of like real life people. Besides my mom, you know. And I had a lot of fun. And then that was my kind of second callback, I suppose. And they told me I’d just do some more adlib. My mom was like, “Okay. I have to work, you’re gonna go with your aunt, the world is gonna continue. This is awesome but like, the world continues.”

Photo by Louise Bishop
Photo by Louise Bishop

So she went to work and I went with my aunt to the audition. And I did more adlib and they were like, “You know, could you say it a little bit more happy, like for instance if we gave you the role, how would you react?” And I was like, “Okay! Wow!” I gave forth my best shot. And that’s when they told me I was gonna be in Moana. I was crying and I was so happy. And just thrilled that, first of all, they thought that I was like worthy enough for this role. I didn’t think that I was – I could never imagine in my wildest dreams that I would be voicing this character. But I was just so happy and blessed. And then I told my mom. And then I had another cry fest. So. It was really good.

Auli’i Cravalho

Newcomer Auli‘i Cravalho was called on to provide the voice of the tenacious teenager. But unlike the hundreds of hopefuls who tried out to be cast as the film’s title character, Cravalho didn’t pursue the role. The film’s Hawai‘i-based casting director recalled her singing performance from a video submission for a fundraiser/talent showcase and asked her to come in and try out. Three auditions later, including her first trip to Burbank, Calif., Cravalho earned the role. “She has the spirit of Moana,” says Shurer. “We tease her and she teases us right back. There’s a fearlessness, but at the same time genuine warmth. She is a natural talent and a professional—but still a kid at heart.”

Walt Disney Animation Studios’ “Moana” has found her voice following a worldwide search to cast the film’s title character. Native Hawaiian newcomer Auli’i Cravalho, 14, joins Dwayne Johnson in the big-screen adventure about a spirited and fearless teenager named Moana (voice of Cravalho) who, with help from demi-god Maui (voice of Johnson), sets out on a daring mission to prove herself a master wayfinder. “Moana” sails into U.S. theaters on Nov. 23, 2016. Photo by: Hugh E. Gentry. ©2015 Disney. All Rights Reserved.
Photo by: Hugh E. Gentry. ©2015 Disney. All Rights Reserved.

Moana is an adventurous, tenacious and compassionate 16-year-old who is struggling to find her true self. While her father, Chief Tui, pressures her to follow in his footsteps and lead their island one day, Moana is drawn to the sea. The people of her village are forbidden to go beyond the safety of the reef, yet the open ocean seems to beckon Moana.

How does it feel to be the youngest Disney Princess?

That’s pretty incredible. I am the same age as the character on my birthday is on November 22nd and that film comes out on the 23rd. And Moana’s 16 in the movie. It kinda just worked out like that. I’m proud of the character that Disney has portrayed on screen.

MOANA - (Pictured) Moana. ©2016 Disney. All Rights Reserved.
MOANA – (Pictured) Moana. ©2016 Disney. All Rights Reserved.

I’m proud of her build, the wonderful tan that she has. I love that. Not only will people look up to her but people will begin looking up to me. That’s something I can’t quite wrap my mind around just yet. I guess I have a 15-year-old who has so much more to learn. And I have so much more to grow. I just am excited for everyone to see her on screen because I find her someone that I look up to.


HOLLYWOOD, CA - NOVEMBER 14: (L-R) Actress Auli'i Cravalho, Songwriter Lin-Manuel Miranda, Executive producer John Lasseter and guest attend The World Premiere of Disney’s "MOANA" at the El Capitan Theatre on Monday, November 14, 2016 in Hollywood, CA. (Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images for Disney) *** Local Caption *** Auli'i Cravalho; Lin-Manuel Miranda; John Lasseter
Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images for Disney- Auli’i Cravalho; Lin-Manuel Miranda; John Lasseter

Did you notice any of your personal mannerisms or characteristics making their way into the animation of Moana?

Yes. I have just learned not to touch my hair when I’m nervous. But that’s something that Moana does. During the recording process, I would touch my hair or my flower. You’ll see at some point when work needs to get done, Moana puts her hair up. Which is something that I do a lot in the sound booth. ‘Cause as luxurious as these locks are, they’ve gotta go back at some point, work has to get done. She smiles a lot, which is something I don’t quite do often. There are some mannerisms in there. And of course, she was actually designed before I had even stepped in there. So the fact that she kinda looks like me is kind of uncanny. And now that she shares my voice and mannerisms…yeah…

Tenacious teenager Moana (voice of Auliʻi Cravalho) recruits a demigod named Maui (voice of Dwayne Johnson) to help her become a master wayfinder and sail out on a daring mission to save her people. Directed by the renowned filmmaking team of Ron Clements and John Musker, produced by Osnat Shurer, and featuring music by Lin-Manuel Miranda, Mark Mancina and Opetaia Foa‘i, “Moana” sails into U.S. theaters on Nov. 23, 2016. ©2016 Disney. All Rights Reserved.
©2016 Disney. All Rights Reserved.

So now that it’s all put together, what do you think of Moana? 

I am blown away. I have seen it in its kind of like chalked up stages of animation where it’s not fully complete yet. Where she would go bald, or her skirt would get stuck in the air. And I was loving it then, I cried doing the songs.

Via YouTube
Via YouTube


But now with its finished score, with like I said, the palm trees in the background. Or the lapping of the water even. It blows me away, just the amount of detail that the animators and the sound guys have put in there. It’s incredible. And also seeing other people’s faces. That was so special. My mom was holding my hand.

She actually has a line in the film. And so she was so excited to hear herself. She did fabulously. I remember she was talking like, okay, I need to run my lines- and she has like one. She’s like, “I need an agent.” (Laughing) I’m fine with being the smaller star in this family. 

Sharing the Polynesian culture with the world 

I love seeing the infusion of the Polynesian culture play out in this film; it is so beautiful. How do you think people of the islands will feel about Moana?

Oh, gosh. I’ll admit, I was a little wary before I got put into this role. Because I think anyone who hears that a movie’s going to be inspired by their culture, they want it to be done right. And we don’t want any misrepresentation, we want to make sure that what we feel our culture’s about, that it’s portrayed correctly on the screen. And that was how I felt. But after sort of working on the film and I learned that we have an Oceanic Story Trust, made up of individuals who are elders, who are fishermen, or navigators. That every single component, whether it was just a small little dancing scene in there, that was choreographed by a Polynesian dancer. But just the little details, even just listening to the palm trees swaying in the background, that they got all of that. Because that’s what it’s about, it’s in the fine details that I think make just the large production that much more special.

Before you started on the film how much Polynesian did you know?

I knew a lot. I kind of describe Maui’s mythology and the folklore of it as my bedtime stories. Because they were. The stories of him pulling oceans out of the sea, or slowing down the sun. I not only heard it before going to bed but also at my school. I go to an all Hawaiian school. So even voyaging across the open ocean, it’s something that we find deep pride in, and it’s pretty connected to our curriculum.

In the film, Moana’s grandmother has a sting ray tattoo. If Moana had one, what tattoo do you think she’d have? 

I’m not sure. I’ll just kinda take it to a personal level, I suppose. I’m not sure. I think tattoos are of course very permanent. And I think the journey that Moana goes on; she understands that she’ll have many journeys after this. So I’m not sure what tattoo she would get. I personally I would get a tattow, which is actually what I believe is the word tattoo comes from. It’s a Polynesian kind of tattoo, I suppose. It’s quite painful, more painful than the process of a regular needle because it’s tapping the ink into your skin.

Like shown in the movie. 

Exactly. The guy is like screaming his head off. (Laughing) So I think if anything, Moana is brave enough and secure enough in her own sense, to know that if she were to get anything permanent, she would make sure that it connected her to her family. And to her island.

What advice do you have for kids trying to find their way?

Photo by Louise Bishop
Photo by Louise Bishop

When I was thinking about show business and I was thinking about the thought of Hollywood, I was like, okay, you know what, I have the thought. Now I’m gonna be serious about it. And I’m not gonna even set my hopes too high. And so I focused myself on schooling. Which is really important. Don’t get me wrong, I focused on science and I was planning on continuing my career there. And when MOANA popped up, it was my freshman year of high school. And I remember thinking okay, I sing pretty well. I’m an okay actress. I mean, my backyard plays are directed and produced by me. Thank you very much. But I didn’t know how I would add up to my competition. I had seen wonderful auditions on YouTube. And I put myself down. I thought you know what, it’s fine. What could I possibly give that the directors haven’t already seen? But then this big blessing happened. And I thought to myself, “why don’t I just try?” I’m gonna get older and I’m gonna say to myself, oh, maybe not. And I realized that all that time that my mom spent, saying, okay, just try it, you never know what’s gonna come up. I was totally twisting that around in the way that she wouldn’t want me to.

Photo by Louise Bishop
Photo by Louise Bishop

And I think she was away at work. And I was at school. And I thought to myself, just – if anything, I want to make her proud. And so when I had the first audition, in Hawaii. And it was at the Hawaii 5-0 casting cent she just said, “I’m so proud of you”. And I was like, I haven’t even done anything. I’m not even like solid on these lines, do I know all the words to my song?  But she was still so proud of me. And so that’s what encouraged me to continue on my journey. And I hope that anyone else just goes out on that limb because they don’t know what life has in store for them. And please, please don’t put yourself down. Because there is so much more potential than you even know.

And I was like, I haven’t even done anything. I’m not even like solid on these lines, do I know all the words to my song? But she was still so proud of me. And so that’s what encouraged me to continue on my journey. And I hope that anyone else just goes out on that limb because they don’t know what life has in store for them. And please, please don’t put yourself down. Because there is so much more potential than you even know.

MOANA is an adventurous, tenacious and compassionate 16-year-old who sails out on a daring mission to save her people. Along the way, she discovers the one thing she's always sought: her own identity. Directed by the renowned filmmaking team of Ron Clements and John Musker ("The Little Mermaid," "Aladdin," "The Princess & the Frog") and featuring newcomer Auli'i Cravalho as the voice of Moana, Walt Disney Animation Studios' "Moana" sails into U.S. theaters on Nov. 23, 2016. ©2016 Disney. All Rights Reserved.
MOANA ©2016 Disney. All Rights Reserved.

The takeaway for all kids.

I think the underlying theme of Moana has something everyone can take away. Yes, young women but also young men who are going to go into this era and be the old heroes and heroines of their own story. It’s so important. I’m 15, going on 16, and you know, I’ve found that I can live up to Moana; and that she’s a true heroine. And that she’s determined and beautiful inside and out. But being strong doesn’t mean that you don’t have your weaker moments, you can’t be as connected emotionally either. Moana is all of that, and I think her journey of finding herself is something that everyone can take away from, girl or boy. 

What is next for you?  

I love that I get to meet wonderful people like all of you. And I get to travel to places that I would never even dream of going to. I just came back from Singapore! I mean, I have no idea what’s on the horizon for me. But I had kind of focused my thoughts in my direction towards science. For some interesting fate has decided to drop things into there, make my interests timed to one another. I was in a science and molecular cell biology program. And I was focusing on how our sunscreen, although is very important for us to wear, it’s incredibly harmful to our natural reefs and our oceans. So what I’m hoping to do and what I’m hoping to kind of complete as my research project in the future, is using the natural algae in our system is able to absorb and refract so much light. Which gives it it’s wonderful fluorescent sometimes deep green color. And with that, I’m hoping to create some kind of suntan lotion that is better for us. And better for the environment. I believe the land and the world stems from our oceans. And we need to protect it as the Hawaiian saying goes, “If we protect the ocean, if we love on it, it will love on us”. So hopefully in the future, I’ll continue in this field of film. As well as kind of a passion of mine which is science. We’ll see how it works out.

That’s kind of a theme throughout the movie, too. 

MOANA is in theaters TODAY

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*I was invited by Disney to attend the Moana Event to share my experiences with my readers. All opinions are my own.


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