Although it was just a few months ago, it seems much longer since I attended the Pete’s Dragon Red Carpet Event. The whirlwind of events is one I will treasure forever and perhaps, that’s why I wistfully look back upon it as if it were a lifetime ago. During this remarkable experience, I had the joy of meeting Auli’l Cravalho (the voice of MOANA) and her amazing mom, Puanani on the red carpet. The brief five minutes we chatted was one of the most extraordinary and magical moments during my Hollywood journeys and I’m forever grateful I had the opportunity to meet these exceptional women!
Have you ever been in the presence of someone who simply lights up the entire room the second they step in? Times that by two! There’s no doubt in my mind that the little apple Auli’l grew strong and vibrant right next to the Puanani tree!
I’ve always heard the term “star quality” and along my life journey and press travels, I’ve met many super star authors, acting professionals and business greats, but after meeting Auli’l and Puanani (on the red carpet and the day after for an interview session,) I now feel like I have a richer, deeper understanding of the application of that term. When you are in the presence of these two dynamos, you are blinded by the star quality and you are by default, the better for having witnessed it.
It is simply easy to immediately understand why Disney chose Auli’l Cravalho, a formerly unknown actress, to be the voice and force behind a character who will soon become a household name. In person, she is as charming and animated as you would expect to find of any Disney princess. Though Auli’l humbly says the show is going to be all about MOANA, together Auli’l and MOANA are definitely going to light up the world!
Auli’l and her mother, Puanani were delightful interviewees. The bond between them is so strong, you can nearly see the threads of love that entwine them glittering in the air. They finish each other’s sentences. They have the same remarkable reverence for their island culture, identical joyful spirits, and a lovely enthusiasm for life. They also had to share the same secret – that Auli’l was chosen as the voice of MOANA – for over three months!
Had we only the opportunity to interview Auli’l, I think we still would have sensed her mother in every word and gesture. Auli’l is very much her own person and a true talent, yet she has a beautiful sense of family that is obviously been passed down via the loving nurturing nature of her mother.
One of the things Auli’l enjoyed most about her character, MOANA is that “she’s totally a bad butt!” She feels MOANA is like Mulan (Auli’l favorite Disney princess,) in this way.
“To have such a beautiful young teen (Moana) who shows that it’s okay to go on a journey to find yourself, it’s wonderful, because that message is universal to everyone,” said Auli’l. “Also because way finding isn’t just something Disney made up for animation purposes. It was truly almost lost in the Polynesian culture, which is something that not a lot of people know. So the fact that it’s being shined in such a positive light and the fact that there is now a resurgence of navigation and way finding in real day-to-day life, it’s so important.”
Auli’l feels that MOANA shares her values of family and the love of her people. She shared that she feels when you go to Hawaii, you’ll notice like the ambiance, friendliness and that islanders all kind of think for each other. This is a key point she is happy that is reflected in the film.
“As a Polynesian, we believe that, that everything is connected,” said Auli’l. “So from Malta to Makai, from the ocean to the sea, we respect that. We use everything. Everything. So if we take care of the land or we take care of the ocean, then it’ll take care of us. And the script really held that in there and I remember all I could think of is whoever gets this is going to do it such great justice.”
The most challenging part for Auli’l was the process of recording without meeting her fellow actors and actresses. It wasn’t something she was prepared to do and had to learn as she went along in filming. She enjoyed that she was able to meet the animators during filming, which is not something that voice actors and actresses often get to do, and felt that enriched her experience.
Puanani didn’t expect that her daughter would wind up being in the amazing position of being the voice behind the next Disney Animation star, but she is thrilled, honored and happy that this opportunity has been gifted to her. They are both truly enjoying the experience.
“To be in the hands of Disney, we’re in good hands,” said Puanani. “I’m doing my mommy part and I’m staying close with her, because I need to be on this journey with her, but she’s happy and she’s thriving, and we’re in good hands. So this canoe is sailing and we’re sailing well!”
Barb Webb. Founder and Editor of Rural Mom, is an author and sustainable living expert nesting in Appalachian Kentucky. When she’s not chasing chickens around the farm or engaging in mock Jedi battles, she’s writing about country living and artisan culture.