Teen actress Auli'i Cravalho helps bring to life Walt Disney Animation Studios’ newest heroine in “Moana.” The 15-year-old Native Hawaiian is the voice of the determined and fearless lead character in the animated comedy adventure, which is directed by animation greats John Musker and Ron Clements (“The Little Mermaid,” “Aladdin”).
Filmmakers auditioned hundreds of talented young women throughout the Pacific Islands before finding the gifted Auli‘i, who did not initially pursue the coveted role. The film’s Hawai‘i-based casting director recalled her singing performance from a video submission for a fundraiser/talent showcase and asked Auli‘i come in and try out. Three auditions later, including her first trip to Burbank, Calif., she earned the title role, thanks to raw talent.
In the film, Moana is an adventurous, tenacious and compassionate 16-year-old who is struggling to find her true self. While her father, Chief Tui, guides her to follow in his footsteps and lead their island one day, Moana is drawn to the sea. At Chief Tui’s behest, the people of her village are forbidden to go beyond the safety of the reef, yet the open ocean seems to beckon Moana. “It doesn't seem possible for her to fulfill her heart's desire and still be true to her people and her culture,” says director Ron Clements. “She descended from navigators, but she doesn’t know it—yet.”
When her island is threatened by a terrible darkness, Moana breaks her father’s rules and sets sail on an epic adventure to save her people and find the answers she’s been searching for her whole life. Says director John Musker, “She is inspired to solve the problem of this world that has been haunting them and has made voyaging impossible. If she can face this problem that’s plagued them for a thousand years, perhaps voyaging could resume.”
“She is a strong hero who sets out to retrieve what her people lost a long time ago,” says producer Osnat Shurer. “This isn’t a love story—it’s action, adventure, fun and drama. Moana wants to save the world—literally—even though she’s just about the only person who realizes it needs saving. She’s a powerful role model for today’s audiences.”
The 15-year-old, who turns 16 the day before “Moana” opens in the U.S., admires her character. “When I have a lot going on at school and it gets to be too much, sometimes I want to call it quits and crawl under my covers,” says Cravalho. “But Moana would never do that. She’s incredibly strong and down to earth. It takes a lot to stand for what you believe in, yet she follows her own path. She’s such a relatable character, it’s easy to want to root for her.
“I connect with Moana in many ways—growing up on an island, as well as the way I love the ocean,” concludes Cravalho. “She is braver than I am though—literally sailing so far out of her comfort zone. I hope to push to new horizons like Moana does.”
Opening across the Philippines on Nov. 30, Moana is distributed by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures through Columbia Pictures. Like us on Facebook, WaltDisneyStudiosPH; follow us on Twitter, @disney_phil; follow us on Instagram, @disney.ph and use the hashtag #MoanaPH.