“I am NOT a princess! I am the daughter of a Chief!”
“You wear a dress. You have an animal sidekick. You’re a princess.”
That exchange between Moana and the demi-god, Maui puts Moana squarely in the Disney princess pantheon. Moana is the newest film in the string of Disney animated features and will immediately draw references to Frozen because of its strong soundtrack and stirring story of self-discovery. Indeed, it’s been three years since Disney has produced an animated princess movie with such a powerful music element and with the influence of Lin-Manuel Miranda behind the scenes, it will be a powerhouse in its own right. To be sure, there are some amazing songs in the film with some familiar Miranda touches, but even without the music, this film would hold its own among Disney’s line of classics.
Part of that credit has to go to newcomer Auli’i Cravalho who gives life to the title character. She portrays Moana with a conviction and charm that belies her age. In person, Auli’i is obviously intelligent and this role means a lot to her personally since it reflects the culture she loves. “I literally grew up with pigs and chickens (referring to her sidekicks Pua and HeiHei). I am deeply rooted to my culture. I actually go to an all Hawaiian school where the mythology and the folklore of Maui is in our curriculum. And I’ve listened to his stories as bedtime stories and I’ve grown up with the Aloha spirit.” Later she added, “I’m working with the best people in the entire world who are making a film inspired by my culture! A culture that I have lived every day of my life and that is something so incredibly special for the rest of the world to see.”
Before becoming a part of the film and learning about the deep dedication Disney had to making it right, Auli’i admitted she had some hesitation about it. “I will admit that before I was working on this film, I was a bit wary of it. Because when someone thinks of someone making a film being inspired by their culture they want it to be done right. And Disney has done a wonderful job. The Oceanic story trust that has been put together as well as the research trips that Ron and John also went on as well. All of that has just created such a wonderful, well-rounded film that I’m excited for my people to see and for everyone else to see as well as they will hopefully be inspired to research on our culture, because our culture is awesome!”
Indeed the research that went into creating Moana was astounding and really helps to establish the setting. But the passion and love that both Auli’i and Dwayne Johnson (who plays Maui) have for their roles comes through so effortlessly and enriches the emotional depth of the film. They play off of each other well and it is made more impressive that this is Auli’i’s professional debut. To add to that, Auli’i has a powerful singing voice and will capture your heart with her rendition of the song “How Far I’ll Go.” With so much talent, will we see more of her? After the press conference, I had the chance to talk to Auli’i briefly and asked if Moana was just the beginning of her acting career or if she had other plans. She said that until this came along she was focusing on being a molecular biologist! “I can do both, right?”
Make sure to see Moana when it opens in theaters nationwide in time for the the Thanksgiving weekend this November 23.
- Read about Lin-Manuel Miranda’s exciting songs for Moana!
- Find out more about the work behind-the-scenes making Moana’s home of Motonui
- Discover what goes in to about six seconds of animated film-making with Moana