Auli‘i Cravalho is the voice of the newest Disney Princess, MOANA. But Auli‘i Cravalho is more than just the voice of this beautiful sweet character who, simply put, wants to save her people.
After meeting Auli‘i, I get the sense that MOANA is not the only one who wants to see her island saved.
Everyone loves Hawaii, but the real heritage of the Polynesian culture is not very well known to the rest of the world. Until now.
Through this movie that, in my opinion, rivals Frozen, the world is about to learn about the traditions and myths that Auli‘i grew up with, and she can't wait for us all to see it. This is why I think Auli'i Cravalho is the perfect MOANA.
We started the interview by congratulating Auli'i and chatting about the video of her being told she got the part of MOANA.
But we still had to ask, what was it really like when she heard, for the first time, that she would be the voice of the first Polynesian Disney Princess?
Auli'i: I was called into technically another audition where I was told I would need to do just some more ad-lib. And that was after I had already flown up to LA and I had done some recording there.
Make a Moana Paper Doll!
I had tried out the first time in my life in front of real-life people. Besides my mom, you know. [LAUGHTER] And I had a lot of fun.
And then that was my second callback, I suppose. They told me I’d just do some more ad lib. I went with my aunt to the audition process.
I did more ad lib 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 my best shot. And that’s when they told me I was gonna be in MOANA.
I was crying and so happy. And just thrilled that, first of all, they thought that I was 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.
We asked how Auli'i thought people would react to seeing the rich Polynesian culture played out in the film.
Auli'i: 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 is 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 working on the film I learned that we have a group made up of individuals who are elders, who are fishermen (or navigators) and that every single component, whether it was just a small little dancing scene, it was choreographed by a Polynesian dancer.
Just the little details, even just listening to the palm trees swaying in the background, that they got all of that [right]. 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.
We wondered how much of the Polynesian culture Auli'i really knew before the film, and found out that is actually part of their school curriculum.
Auli'i: I kind of describe Maui’s mythology and the folklore of it as my bedtime stories. Because they really 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.
MOANA is about a young girl, technically a princess, but we wondered what Auli'i would like kids- not just girls, but boys, too- to take away from the film.
Auli'i: I think the underlying theme of MOANA is something everyone can take away. Yes, young women but also young men who are going to go into this era and be the 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.
But being strong doesn’t mean that you don’t have your weaker moments, or 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, girl or boy.
We congratulated Auli'hi as being the youngest Disney princess. That is huge! We asked how she felt about that, as well as knowing she would be part of the Disney Princess legacy forever.
Auli'i: Thank you! That’s pretty incredible. We are the same age. My birthday is on November 22nd and the film comes out on the 23rd. And MOANA’s 16 in the film. It kinda just worked out like that. [LAUGHS]
I’m really proud of the character that Disney has portrayed on screen. 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 am a 15-year-old who has so much more to learn, and I have so much more to grow. I just am really excited for everyone to see her on screen because I find her someone that I look up to.
Auli'i really looks like her character, and we wondered if, after seeing the film, she noticed any of her personal mannerisms or characteristics making their way into the animation.
Auli'i: Yes. [LAUGHS] I have just learned not to touch my hair when I move it. But that’s something that MOANA does. Also the recording process, I wasn’t able to 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 booth.
She smiles a lot, which is something I don't quite do often. 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.
Auli'i had just seen MOANA a few nights before our interview. We asked what were her thoughts when she saw it all come together.
Auli'i: I was really blown away. I have seen it in its kind of like chalked up stages of animation where it’s not fully complete yet. And I was loving it then, I cried doing the songs.
But now with its finished score, with the palm trees in the background, or the lapping of the water. 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 hair. She actually has a line in the film. Maybe you folks can figure it out. But she talks about asking the coconut.
She did fabulous. I mean, I remember she was talking like, 'okay, I need to run my lines'. She only has one, but she’s like, I’m fine with being the smaller star in this family. [LAUGHTER]
In the film, MOANA’s grandmother has a scene where she has a sting ray tattoo. We had to ask, if MOANA would have a tattoo, what tattoo do you think she would get?
Auli'i: I’m not sure. I think if anything, MOANA is brave enough and secure enough in her own sense to know that if she was to get anything permanent, she would make sure that it connected her to her family. And to her island.
For a fifteen-year-old (almost sixteen!) Auli'i really seems to know what she wants and where she is going. We asked what advice would she have for kids trying to find their way?
Auli'i: When I was thinking about show business and about the thought of Hollywood, I was like, 'okay, you know what? I've had the thought. Now I’m gonna be serious about it. And I’m not gonna even set my hopes too high.'
So I focused on schooling. Which is really important. Don’t get me wrong, I focused on science and I was planning on continuing my career there.
When MOANA popped up, it was in 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. [LAUGHTER]
I 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 I thought to myself, 'why don’t I just try?' And I realized that all that time that my mom spent, and I thought to myself, if anything, I want to make her proud.
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.
Auli'i's work has definitely paid off, but she seems like she is still grounded. We asked if her life had changed a lot since the movie.
Auli'i: It hasn’t changed too much. I mean, I’m really grateful for that. It has at least changed my mentality of life a little bit.
But I’m still doing homework, whether it’s in the car, in a plane, a hotel room. In fact, my studio teacher is outside right now. Mom is just trying to find things for me to do. Just to keep me normal.
I’ve actually started a schedule where I can call my friends and speak with them because I realized that I missed the camaraderie of my classmates.
I realize that just the little things that I took for granted, are certainly things that I miss. So I’ve just decided to balance things. Whether it’s calling them or texting, whatever it may be. It’s finding a balance.
We all wanted to know what kind of projects were on the horizon for Auli'i.
Auli'i: Oh, thank you. In fact, we were just talking about this while I was getting my face done. 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 have no idea what’s on the horizon for me.
For some interesting reason, fate decided to make my interests tied to one another. So what I was working on was a science and molecular cell biology program, focusing on how our sunscreen is incredibly harmful to our natural reefs and our oceans.
So what I’m hoping to do and hoping to kind of complete as my research project in the future, is using the natural algae in our system [because] it's able to absorb and refract so much light, which gives it the wonderful fluorescent, sometimes deep green color.
With that, I’m hoping to create some kind of suntan lotion that is better for us. And better for the environment. The land and the world stems from our oceans. And we need to protect it.
We have a Hawaiian saying, “If we protect the ocean, if we love on it, it will love on us." And you know, be a blessing to 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.
We asked what had been the biggest challenge during the film process.
Auli'i: I had a definite learning curve. I think that was certainly a challenge. Backyard plays were my thing. But I didn’t know how to work in a booth.
For one it was cold. I don't like being cold, I get cranky when I’m cold. [LAUGHTER] I didn’t have anyone to bounce off of. I wasn’t rubbing elbows with Dwayne Johnson like I thought I would be in the booth. [LAUGHTER]
I did have a writer though, Jared Bush (See my meeting with Jared!). And he really helped me throughout the entire process. Because it was all new to me. The directors made me feel right at home. They understood, 'this is your first time doing this.'
I think that’s also something that makes Moana relatable, that I’m not a seasoned professional, but I think the emotion that I bring to her is something that is very true. And I was able to connect to Moana on a deeper level as well. So though the learning curve was there and the challenges there, I think I overcame it pretty well.
There are some emotional scenes in Moana. We asked how Auli'i prepared for those scenes.
Auli'i: It took some time. I usually have a happy demeanor. But for the scenes where I would have to either be sad or upset, it’s all about getting into the mindset.
I think particularly in the scenes with Gramma Tala, those were the hardest scenes for me. And I tear up just thinking about them because I always imagine my mom as my Gramma Tala.
I didn’t have a chance to bond with my grandmother before she passed, unfortunately. But whenever I think of someone who pushes me beyond what I think I can do but support me and love on me unconditionally, that’s my mom.
So in those scenes, that’s what I thought of. I thought of my situation with my mom. If I had stayed on my island, if it was another time, and if I decided that my journey would be something a little bit different, if I [would have] decided to save my family the way Moana does. If I decided to be that selfless.
That’s also what makes me look up to her so much. That she can help her family in that way. So having to just put myself into there, when I was finally done recording those scenes, I would be like, okay, stop production, with tears in my eyes.
And I would open the door and Mom like would literally be there. And we would have like a ten-minute break of just like being, getting out of that headspace. And there were a lot of hugs.
This was such a fun interview. Auli'i was kind enough to take a photo with us.
Did I tell you she was the perfect Moana? If you haven't seen one of the trailers of Moana, take a moment and watch Moana meets Maui:
Check out my thoughts on the movie and see what we did on the “blue” carpet at the Moana World Premiere! By the way, I also interviewed Lin-Manuel Miranda, Nicole Scherzinger, who played Moana's mom, Sina, as well as The Rock, Dwayne Johnson!
Visit the official MOANA website!
Disclaimer: Disney invited me to attend this all-expense-paid trip to attend the Moana World Premiere and other events surrounding the movie.
This post was first seen on Food, Fun & Faraway Places on December 3, 2019, and was updated with additional information on June 22, 2021.