Not too long ago, 15-year-old Hollywood newcomer Auli’i Cravalho was performing in backyard plays and glee club.
She may not realise it yet, but this Thanksgiving, Cravalho will become the next role model for young girls everywhere in the form of a pint-sized Pacific Islander teen in “Moana.”
Surprisingly enough, Cravalho landed the role without even a formal audition — a testament to how well-suited she is to become Disney’s most fearless princess yet.
“I didn’t officially try out,” Cravalho told Tech Insider. She auditioned instead for a local nonprofit event. “The casting woman who was going through those auditions was the same casting director for Disney’s [‘Moana’]. She looked at my audition and the rest is history.”
It’s not hard to see how Cravalho, who was the last actress that casting director Rachel Sutton saw, blew away the House of Mouse.
First, she’s unbearably cute. I met Cravalho at San Diego Comic-Con last summer and asked how she pronounces her first name, Auli’i (which means dainty or cute in Hawaiian).
She said, “It’s ‘ow,’ like you stubbed your toe, ‘lee,’ like Bruce Lee, and then another ‘ee,'” throwing in a karate kick for good measure.
The young actress also has the heart to match her character, a Polynesian girl her age.
The movie follows Moana on an epic oceanic journey 2,000 years ago. Her ancestors once travelled the world by a system of navigation called wayfinding, in which voyagers look to the ocean currents and stars for guidance. But their way of life mysteriously ended, which is a plotline based on real Polynesian history, according to Cravalho.
Moana shares her ancestors’ draw to the water and sets out to restore this integral part of their culture. In order to do so, she must find a demigod, played by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, and deliver him across the ocean.
“Throughout her journey and the movie, she further realises she’s an amazing individual and she doesn’t have to be anybody else,” Cravalho said.
It’s a story the young actress finds relatable.
“I personally feel like I’ve kind of blossomed into who I’m meant to be, and I love this journey that I’m on,” she said. “Each Disney princess is unique in their own way, but Moana is especially close to my heart because she’s Polynesian.”
Cravalho, a high school sophomore, was born and raised on the Hawaiian Islands. “Moana” marks her first major film role.
Its release date, November 23, also falls on the actress’ 16th birthday.
“How sweet is my birthday going to be?” she exclaimed. Pretty sweet indeed.
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