With the upcoming release of Disney’s Moana later this month, I can’t help but think back to my exclusive interview with the voice of Moana, the lovely Auli’i (pronounced Aw-Lee-e) Cravalho and her amazing mom, Puanani. I had a chance to meet with the two of them during my trip to Los Angeles for the premiere of Pete’s Dragon back in August. The official announcement had just become public that after some rigorous interviewing, Native Hawaiian newcomer Auli’i Cravalho had been selected to play the voice of Moana!
Auli’i Cravalho is cast as the voice of Moana!
While Auli’i and her mom had known this for quite some time, they were actually sworn to secrecy for about 3 months! I could only imagine how difficult that must’ve been for the two of them! After spending time with the two of them, it was pretty clear that this entire experience has brought the two of them even closer together. I enjoyed every moment of witnessing their incredible mother-daughter bond and as a mother myself, Puanani is truly one of my hero moms! I can honestly say, I couldn’t tell you which of these two ladies I enjoyed meeting more!
“Mommy…I’m Moana!” – Auli’i Cravalho as the voice of Moana
Auli’i got the call that she had been chosen to play the voice of Moana over the previous summer during summer school. The process took about 2 hours, so as an excuse to her friends, Auli’i told her friends she was going to a dentist’s appointment. Afterwards, she almost blew her cover when she returned drinking a strawberry smoothie, prompting her friends to ask, “Didn’t you just go to a dentist appointment?” Auli’i quickly recovered with, “Did I say dentist? I meant doctor.”
Again, she and her mom were sworn to secrecy for over 3 months. It was no doubt Auli’i wanted to tell her friends, but we had to know what that was like for her mom, Puanani Cravalho.
“She’d come home at night and we’d be hugging and she’s like “Mommy…I’m Moana!” I’m like, yeah you sure are sweetie.”
Q: What actually inspired you to audition? Did you have any previous experience?
Auli’i: Well, I didn’t initially audition for it. My friends and I actually put together an audition, to be the entertainment for a nonprofit event on the island. And we put together a bunch of a capella songs; my friend beat boxed and we had just a really fun experience. We sent it out and we tried our best. We didn’t get in and it was devastating for a second. But what happened was the casting director for Disney saw that audition because she was going through those auditions as well.
So through an intricate web, it just kind of arose and when she emailed mom and I to ask if I wanted to audition, it was like, “fantastic, yes please!” and the rest is kind of history.
Q: What would you say has been your biggest lesson learned about yourself while filming Moana?
Auli’i: Family, definitely. When I first got the role, there was no one that I could tell. And so we would literally have those conversations at night and like there was no one else that I kind of felt like I had to tell because it like, we just have [each other]. It’s just been my mom and I for three years or so. I love being able to not have to feel like I have to share everything with the whole world.
I love my family and the fact that Moana kind of shares that- because she loves her people. A lot of people say when you go to Hawaii, you’ll notice the ambiance and you’ll notice everyone is friendly because we all kind of think for each other. And that’s something that I had to kind of get used to here, because it’s not like that. I don’t mean that in a negative way, but I’m not sure it can be taken any other way. It’s interesting. Everyone is for themselves here. If, if you succeed, good for you. But for everyone that I’ve ever met in Hawaii- It’s like you made it and you made it for us. And I just feel so proud of that.
Q: How have things been since you’ve told everybody – extended family, friends, etc.
Auli’i : It’s been really good, everyone is really supportive of it. I think we got banana bread the first week or so when everyone found out. Aside from that, it’s been pretty normal. My friends are normal. They’re still fan girl over you like on the internet but like “no, you still can take your own tray, thank you very much” and it’s fine.
Chores are like…
Puanani : Keeping it real, you know, I think it’s about raising a well balanced, you know, person.
This is where our group’s new insider hashtag came from. Of course we wanted to know what it was like for them meeting Dwayne (The Rock) Johnson, who was cast Maui in Moana. Sure it was great to hear Auli’i’s thoughts, but let’s be honest, we wanted to hear it from another mom! Puanani gave us the real deal!
“I did some Rock climbing for all of us. I’m just saying, I took one for the team, sweat and everything!”
Auli’i (only slightly embarrassed at this point): He was very nice and very professional. It was interesting because I mean this whole process of recording without meeting someone was something that I was not prepared to do. I assumed that we would be in the same booth.
He is very focused, which is interesting because he has so many different jobs just throughout the day that while we were on the content shoot, he was of course talking to other people, and trying to work out flights and all that stuff. So what kind of just brought to mind I suppose was just how dedicated he can be to one thing and then convert his attention to another. And he loves the character Maui so much.
Because he’s Polynesian just like I am, to see that he’s so committed to the character just made it almost overwhelming just the amount of emotion that I know I put into it, I know that he puts the same amount.
Moana behind the scenes
Q: Was all your animation work alone in a booth? Did you actually see anyone else?
Auli’i: Just day before yesterday was when I met Dwayne. A few weeks ago, I met Rachel House who plays Gramma Tala and Temuera Morrison who played my dad. It was interesting because I’ve gotten so used to their voices, but to see like their faces with it and to kind of match the personality.
For instance, the person who plays Gramma Tala, Rachel House, that isn’t her actual voice. And she totally like commits to the character, but otherwise she’s just a really sweet kind woman who doesn’t sound like Gramma Tala, but just still embodies the character which was interesting. And Temuera Morrison who has an amazing accent. It was interesting to meet him because he’s an actual father, so I got to meet his daughter as well and it was really nice to see just him as a dad. And I got to envision him more so as a dad.
“Moana’s A Bad Butt”
(The word you use when your mom is sitting next to you and you don’t want to curse.)
Q: How do you feel about having your culture embodied into a Disney princess.
(Auli’i’s ethnicity is Puerto Rican and Portuguese on her father’s side and Hawaiian on her mother’s side).
Auli’i: Moana is definitely a Disney character which is something that I totally love, because she’s totally bad butt. She’s really awesome. She really embodies it because I, as someone who has grown up, been born and raised on the island of Hawaii, the Big Island, I love my culture. I go to an all Hawaiian school where you have to be Hawaiian to be admitted. And I speak the language as well.
To have such a beautiful young teen who shows that it’s okay to go on a journey to find yourself… It’s wonderful, because that message is universal to everyone. And also because way finding isn’t just something they made up for animation purposes. It was truly almost lost in the Polynesian culture, which is something that not a lot of people know. So the fact that it’s being shined in such a positive light and the fact that there is now a resurgence of navigation and way finding in real day-to-day life, it’s, it’s so important.
Q: What were your thoughts when you read the script?
Auli’i : I didn’t really understand that this was a Polynesian film until after I read the script. I did research on it and sure enough because Hawaii is one of the more newer island chains, they pulled from more of an ancient background, which is great. Because if they’re making the story line like thousands of years earlier, Hawaii would not have been created. So the fact that they’ve done that research is amazing. And when I read the script, I was just I was surprised by, again, just how much research they did.
As a Polynesian, we believe that everything is connected. So from Malta to Makai, from the ocean to the sea, we respect that. So if we take care of the land or we take care of the ocean, then it’ll take care of us. And the script really held that in and all I could think of is whoever gets this is going to do it such great justice. They have no choice because it’s an awesome script.
“I’m Doing My Mommy Part” – Puanani Cravalho
Whether or not you have a child who gets to star in a major Disney film, you couldn’t help but to relate to Auli’i’s mom, Puanani. She was so transparent and real with sharing her entire experience. It was apparent that she has done a wonderful job in raising her daughter and in guiding her through this journey that’s only just beginning -I mean, she still makes her do her chores! She’s definitely one of my mom heroes because, just like all of us, she truly only wants the best for her daughter, no matter what.
Q : (To Puanani) What are your thoughts on your daughter doing this?
Puanani : All right, I’ll just say this-Auli’i is really great and she’s focused on academics and that’s just really very important. And then, you know, this is performing arts -something that she did for fun, to kind of take a break off of the honors and the A-P classes. This is what she did for her that fed the soul.
I didn’t take her to the auditions, we didn’t do all of these kind of things, where some are groomed from a young age. This was just something she did for fun and if we could fit it into the schedule, and if we could assure all the important academic classes are taken care of. So when this came along and she had this opportunity, a part of me was just afraid, because we’re going into an area that I don’t know.
I’m thrilled and I’m honored and I’m happy for her. What makes me happy is that I’m watching her and I know my child – I know every movement, the hair, the twist, the brow and everything. What it says to me is that she truly is enjoying this. And that makes it okay. And to be in the hands of Disney, we’re in good hands. So I’m doing my mommy part and I’m staying close with her. Because I need to be on this journey with her. She’s happy and she’s thriving, and we’re in good hands. So this canoe is sailing and we’re sailing well and know we’re moving forward, we really are.
Everything I’ve heard and seen about Moana has just been wonderful! Disney could not have cast a better girl for the voice of Moana. I’m so excited to continue to follow Auli’i’s journey and rise to stardom!
See also: Meet the Characters in Moana
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