Walt Disney Animation Studios announced that its newest princess film “Moana,” a story about a Polynesian heroine, will be released in Nov. 2016.
“Moana” is set to take place two thousand years ago in the fictional world of Oceania. Moana, a spirited teenager, dreams of leaving her home to prove herself a formidable adventurer on the high seas while in search of a fabled island her parents had tried to discover.
Throughout her adventure, Moana is accompanied by her pet pig, Pua, the demigod, Maui and the rooster, Hei Hei.
Starring as the first Polynesian princess of the Disney franchise is 14-year-old Hawaiian native, Auli’l Cravalho.
According to The Huffington Post, Disney had auditioned hundreds of actresses throughout the Pacific Islands to find the perfect fit for the role of Moana.
Cravalho admits that she merely auditioned for the role of Moana on a whim after being discovered by a local Oahu casting agent who flew her to Los Angeles to audition for the Disney film.
“I didn’t think I would have a chance,” said Cravalho, according to Variety. “I never imagined being in a Disney movie, being Moana – representing my culture in that way.”
After her first audition, producers contacted Cravalho for a fake second audition, in which they tricked her into thinking the audition process was not finished.
After requesting Cravalho to perform multiple scenes and emotions, producers concluded their trick, sharing the news with Cravalho that she would be the voice of Moana.
According to Variety, Disney and Pixar Chief Creative Officer, John Lasseter stated during a conference, “It’s very important to us to have female and ethnic characters. It’s grown in importance over time. As you’ll see in future films, we’re really paying attention to that.”
Joining Cravalho in the voice cast for “Moana” is Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, who will voice Moana’s hulky companion Maui, born a human and raised by gods.
“This is my heritage,” said Johnson to a Disney fan expo audience, according to Entertainment Weekly. “I am proudly half-Samoan and half-black. To tell a story inspired by the South Pacific is truly a great honor.”
According to Variety, the film is being directed by Ron Clements and Jon Musker, the same directors in charge of other Disney film classics including “The Little Mermaid,” “Aladdin” and “The Princess and the Frog.”
A couple students from John Carroll University shared their thoughts about the latest upcoming Disney princess film.
Sophomore Jake Dwierza said, “I think Disney is trying to be more inclusive of different cultures and ‘Moana’ is a step in the right direction. I think that having a Hawaiian native actually playing the Polynesian princess is great.”
“I don’t think that this is the first time that Disney has done this,” added junior Shannon Kinnear. “Lilo, from ‘Lilo and Stitch,’ was also a female Pacific Islander character. ‘Moana’ is the first actual Disney princess to be Polynesian, but she isn’t new to the terms of the diversity for Disney characters.”
Sophomore Kelsey Sprenger said, “I love the idea of a Polynesian Disney princess. I hope to see the Polynesian culture incorporated into the film. I’m not sure how different she’ll be from the other Disney princesses, but I am glad to see cultural diversity in newer Disney princess.”
“Moana is such an amazing character,” said Cravalho. “She’s brave, she is so empowered, she knows what she wants and she’s not afraid to get it, and I think that’s something that I can relate to as well. I just love watching how she goes along in this wonderful movie and grows as a person and helps her culture along the way.”
Producers hope that “Moana” will have a similar success rate as the latest and widely successful Disney princess film, “Frozen.”
Editor’s Note: Information from Entertainment Weekly, Variety, Hawaii News Now, The Huffington Post and USA Today was used in this report.