As a parent of a nearly 14-year-old, it's almost unfathomable to me that this young woman is starting in a Disney Animation Studios feature film. Auli'i Cravalho turned 16 yesterday (November 22). In 10th grade, I was nowhere near as poised as she was, although I was acting and singing in every theatre production and singing group I could juggle. I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Auli'i this summer and it's unbelievable how much more poised she is even in the past few months of working with the media. She walked in the room, grinning ear to ear, her smile and laughter are so infectious. She remembered meeting some of us this past summer, which is lovely.
Who is Auli'i Cravalho?
Here are 13 things to know about this voice of Moana and the girl who is sure to be the next Hollywood's vocal superstar.
1. Auli'i was the last girl Casting Director Rachel Sutton auditioned and the only one who got a second callback.
Unbeknownst to Auli’i, she had been hand selected by Directors Ron Clements & John Musker and producer Osnat Shurer from her video submissions and one round of ad lib auditions. The team wanted to find someone of Polynesian descent. Auli'i wowed them. When they called her for her “callback,” she had no idea she had actually gotten the part. There's a great video clip of when she found out she had gotten the part of Moana.
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 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 ad lib in moments like, okay. I had worked, you're gonna go with your aunt, the world is gonna continue.
This is awesome but like, the world continues. So she went to work and I went with my aunt to the audition process. And 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 forth my best shot. And that’s when they told me I was gonna be in MOANA. Which was 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 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 sesh. So. It was really good.
2. Auli'i was wary about the Disney representation of the Polynesian culture in the movie.
Because I think anyone who hears that a movie’s going to 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 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.
3. Maui's legend was Auli'i's bedtime story.
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. So even voyaging across the open ocean, it’s something that we find deep pride in. And it's pretty connected into our curriculum.
4. Moana isn't a princess story, it's a hero story.
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 own 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 look up to Moana. And that she’s a true heroine.
And that she’s determined and beautiful in inside and out. But being strong doesn’t mean that you don’t have your weaker moments, and that you aren't 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.
5. She's the youngest Disney Princess
That’s pretty incredible. I'll be the same age as the character, my birthday is on November 22nd and the film comes out on the 23rd. And Moana’s 16 in the film. It kinda just works out like that. I’m really proud of the character that Disney has portrayed on screen. I’m proud of her build, the wonderful time tan 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 really excited for everyone to see her on screen because I find her someone that I look up to.
6. Some of her personal mannerisms and characteristics are similar to Moana's
Yes. I have just learned not to touch my hair when I'm nervous. But that’s something that Moana does. Also the recording process, I won’t be able to touch my hair or my flower. Uh, 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.
‘Cause luxurious locks have to come back at some point, but 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 now that she shares my voice, I'm like ‘Hmmm, this is a little weird.'
7. She was blown away when she finally saw the final film
I had 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. But now with its finished score, with like I said, the palm trees in the background. Or the laughing 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. Well, maybe you folks can figure it out. But she talks about asking the coconut. And so she… No, but she did fabulous. I mean, I remember she was talking like, ‘Okay, I need to run my lines with you.' I was like, ‘You have one.' She’s like, ‘I need an agent.' You know what, I’m fine with being like the smaller star in this family.
8. On how her tattoos would relate to journeys
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 is—she understands that she’ll have many journeys after this. So I’m not sure what tattoo she would get. Personally, I would get a tatau, which is actually what I believe the word tattoo is based off of.
It’s a Polynesian kind of tattoo, I suppose. And it’s usually done—it’s quite painful, more painful than the process of a regular needle. Because it’s actually tapping the ink into your skin. So 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.
9. What she'd say to kids trying to find their way
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 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. 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 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 thinking, ‘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. 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 audition in Hawaii, and it was at the Hawaii 5-0 casting studio 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? I’m going to mumble some of these words.' 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.
10. She's grounded and tries to have a normal teenage life. Life hasn't changed too much since we saw her in August.
It hasn’t changed too much. I mean, I’m really grateful for that. I have started trig, though. Like that’s 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. Yeah, mom manages 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. And I’ve always been a pretty self-directed learner. And doing my studies now kind of, not necessarily abroad, but away from them, hasn't been too hard. But 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.
11. She has no idea what's on the horizon, but she's love to do something with saving the ocean
I love this industry and 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 had kind of focused my thoughts in my direction on science, and for some interesting reason fate has decided to, you know, drop things into there, make my interests tied into one another. So what I was working on was actually—I was in a science and molecular cell biology program. And I was focusing on how our sunscreen, while 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—if you can follow—if I don't get crazy about this. Uh, but 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. The life of, I believe, just the land and the world stems from our oceans.
And we need to protect it as kind of a Hawaiian saying, ‘If we protect the ocean, if we love on it, it will love on us.' And you know, the term, the 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.
12. Auli'i enjoyed the challenges the filmmaking process brought
I had a definite learning curve. I think that was certainly a challenge. Like I said, backyard plays were my thang. But I didn’t know how to kind of work in a booth. For one it was cold. I don't like being cold, I get cranky when I’m cold. And 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. I did have a writer though, Jared Bush. And he really helped me throughout the entire process. Because it was all new to me.
And the directors as well. They made me feel right at home. They understood that, you know, this is your first time doing this. But that’s what we want. And 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.
13. Auli'i had to learn how to breathe.
I had a voice coach, I was really excited about that. Before this I had choir. And I think in school choir’s was my church choir. And I didn’t have much vocal training beyond that. I think—I’ve told this story to a few of you, that I credit my singing voice to my mom. Because I came out screaming out of the womb. And she didn’t give me a binky so I developed wonderful lungs, which I thank my mom profusely for that.
But I kinda just lived. And I kinda just sang my little heart out in preparation for this role. I’ll say that I did go to the beach also as preparation. But I mean, it was kinda just for fun. Yeah, but I did get a voice teacher, and we would work on Skype since they wouldn't fly her down to Hawaii every week. I was pushing for that, too. But yeah, we worked twice a week and she has given me tips on breathing and all the things that she thought I knew. But, in fact, I didn’t know. Like, ‘Oh, you sound good!' I’m like, ‘Please!' And even just working on breathing.
I realize that voice acting, you can’t hide much. They can cut things here and there, but if it’s a more emotional scene, you’ll start to have a heavier breathing. And in the song, if you're emotional and your breathing has to get heavy, your breathing has to get heavy, but you can’t get out of breath. So it was another learning curve.
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MOANA arrives in theatres everywhere on November 23rd!