BURBANK, Calif. (Oct. 7, 2015) – This is one of those fairy tale stories we’ve come to expect from Walt Disney Animation Studio’s movies, but this time it happened in real life. Native Hawaiian newcomer Auli’i Cravalho, 14, has been cast as Moana in the new film by the same name. She will play spirited and fearless teenager named Moana who, with help from demi-god Maui (voiced by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson), sets out on a daring mission to prove herself a master wayfinder. Walt Disney Animation Studios pulled out all the stops searching for their Moana, and as luck would have it, found her in Hawaii itself.
Hundreds of talented young ladies from across the Pacific Islands were eager to try out for the role, but frankly, Cravalho set her sights firmly on her sophomore year of high school. She didn’t want to get her hopes up. “I didn’t think I would have a chance,” she said. “When I was little, I used to dance around the house singing at the top of my lungs. In my mind, that was performing and I loved the feeling of it. But I never imagined being in a Disney movie, being Moana—representing my culture in that way.”
Fortunately, the film’s Hawai’i casting director remembered an unrelated audition Cravalho did as part of an a cappella group, which had been submitted for a talent showcase for a charity. Feeling the local teen would be perfect for the Disney role, she tracked her and her mother down and invited Cravalho to audition. “Her audition was fantastic – she was such a raw talent,” said producer Osnat Shurer. “Auli’i was among a small number of girls we brought back for a second round of auditions. Then we flew her and her mom over to audition at our studios in Burbank.”
“Auli’i demonstrated a certain fearlessness in her auditions and call-backs,” said director John Musker. “She has a playful, mischievous wit. She can project vulnerability, she doesn’t seem intimidated at all by the challenges ahead, and her Polynesian background has helped shape her connection to family, hard work and music. These are all qualities she shares with Moana.”
“Moana is a vibrant, tenacious 16-year-old growing up on an island where voyaging is forbidden,” added director Ron Clements. “But Moana has been drawn to the ocean since she can remember and is desperate to find out what’s beyond the confines of her island.”
Now watch the video where she is auditioning for the part, in which the producer Osnat Shurer, and directors Ron Clements and John Musker put her through her paces – and then tease her a bit about getting a reading from her with more energy and excitement – you know, as though she’d actually gotten the role. And then the penny drops.
It’s one of those moments you savor, not just as the actress who gets the role of a lifetime at such a tender age, but for the producers and directors as well. It’s not often that you get to make somebody’s fondest dream come true. What an incredible feeling that must be.
Cravalho has already started recording for the role. Moana sails into U.S. theaters on Nov. 23, 2016.
ABOUT THE MOVIE
Three thousand years ago, the greatest sailors in the world voyaged across the vast South Pacific, discovering the many islands of Oceania. But then, for a millennium, their voyages stopped – and no one today knows why. From Walt Disney Animation Studios comes Moana, a sweeping, CG-animated adventure about a spirited teenager who sails out on a daring mission to prove herself a master wayfinder and fulfill her ancestors’ unfinished quest. During her journey, Moana (voice of Auli’i Cravalho) meets the once-mighty demi-god Maui (voice of Dwayne Johnson), and together, they traverse the open ocean on an action-packed voyage, encountering enormous fiery creatures and impossible odds. Directed by the renowned film making team of Ron Clements and John Musker (The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, The Princess & the Frog), and produced by Osnat Shurer (Lifted, One Man Band), Moana sails into U.S. theaters on Nov. 23, 2016.
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