Mar 10th, 2017, 10:00 AM

The Age of Auli'i

By Madison Pritchyk
Image Credit: IMDb
Who is the 16-year-old Hawaiian actress making waves in Hollywood?

Since her debut as the voice of Moana in Disney’s Moana in November 2016, Auli’i Cravalho (pronounced ow-lee-E) has been making quite a splash. You might recognize the Kohala, Hawaii native from the recent Annual Academy Awards performing the hit song “How Far I’ll Go.” Making headway as Disney’s newest heroine, working beside Hamilton the Musical’s Lin-Manuel Miranda, and being a trained hula dancer, it seems like there’s nothing this girl can’t do.

Moana (released as Vaiana in Europe) is the newest animated film from Disney Animation. Moana follows the story of a girl’s self discovery as she finds herself while sailing across the ocean to save her island and her people. Along the way, there are egotistic demigods, cute pirates (that look like coconuts) and songs that are sure to get stuck in your head. But at the forefront is the strong willed heroine played by the talented Cravalho.

While her performance of “How Far I’ll Go” dazzled at the Oscars, one thing didn’t go according to plan: one of the background dancers accidentally hit her head with a turquoise flag, incorporated to represent the ocean. Needless to say, it was one of the most Moana things to happen on live TV. The bump didn’t affect her, however, as she completed the song without missing a single note. The song, written by Lin-Manuel Miranda, was nominated for Best Original Song at the Oscars, while the movie was nominated for Best Animated Feature. While Moana didn’t win any golden trophies, it won big at the Annie Awards, where Cravalho was celebrated for Outstanding Achievement in Voice Acting in an Animated Picture Production.

Lin-Manuel Miranda and Auli'l Cravahlo perform 'How Far I'll Go' from MOANA


Before auditioning for the role of the Polynesian heroine, Cravalho was living with her mother in Miliani, attending high school like any girl her age. Only when an Oahu casting agent saw a YouTube video of her singing in a charity competition was Cravalho encouraged to audition for the movie. Her selection for the role made her the youngest actress to ever voice a Disney princess—however, Cravalho notes that Moana is the daughter of a chief, not actual royalty. Despite this, it's true enough to the Disney form.

Much like the character she plays, Cravalho explained that she’s more adept to life in the water in an interview with Harper’s Bazaar. Refreshingly enough as well, she has a strong connection with her ancestry, and proudly talks about her Hawaiian roots whenever asked. Growing up on the mythology and folklore of the culture has helped Cravalho further relate to Moana. In a time when diversity is more important than ever, Disney did extensive research on the traditions of the Pacific Islands region—a labor of love that shows in the film. After all, the girl playing the islander is an actual Hawaiian, which is something that should be happening in Hollywood a lot more.

Despite her newfound rise to stardom, Cravalho remains more poised and humble than some of the business’s most seasoned stars. She almost always sports a Moana-esque island flower in her hair, does not even flinch when accidentally bumped on the head, and attends high school like any other 16-year-old. In fact, Cravalho competes on her school’s rowing team and participates in the glee club. Singing is something she’s been doing her entire life, and credits her strong lungs to her mother denying her a pacifier when she cried as a baby.

A cute exchange between Cravalho and a 4-year-old Youtube sensation, Claire, further proved that Cravalho is as kind as her princess alter-ego. Claire and her father have been singing classic Disney tunes together on their channel, Claire and the Crosbys, since 2016. The video was shown on the Ellen Degeneres show, where Claire had the chance to sing the hit song alongside her guitarist dad and real-life Moana at Walt Disney Studios in California. Not only is Cravalho a solid role model for other teens, but she obviously makes an impact on little ones too.

As Cravalho is such an unorthodox star, everyone is wondering what's next for her. Following her success on Oscar Sunday, it was announced that she was cast in NBC’s new series Drama High, written by Jason Katims, follwing a spirited teacher and their students in a high school theater program. Cravalho joins the cast as a student, Lilette, with the pilot set to premier this fall. Best keep an eye on this one, she’s destined to go far.