“Moana,” Disney’s newest animated project, is set for release in fall of 2016, but the voice of the newest princess was announced Wednesday. Auli’i Cravalho, a 14-year-old from Mililani, Hawaii, will be the voice of the Polynesian princess, Moana. Up until now, Disney has always cast adult actresses to play teenage girl parts. As Cravalho is native Hawaiian, this makes her a culturally and age appropriate choice for the role of Moana.
During my senior year of high school, I remember seeing countless numbers of girls recording Hawaiian songs and then uploading them to YouTube. I couldn’t go a few feet without seeing someone screaming a few bars from IZ’s “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” into the receiver of their laptops. Everyone knew it was a long shot, but thought it’d be cool to be a princess. When I saw who was cast for the role months later, I was thrilled with Disney’s decision. Cravalho is the stereotypical image of a wholesome local kid from the heart of Oahu. Her Glee Club and performing arts teachers from Kamehmeha Schools-Kapalama are incredibly proud of her, and excited to know they coached the person with a Disney-caliber voice. Zach Lum, one of Cravalho’s teachers, told Hawaii News Now, “we’re happy to support her in that way. We’re happy to have a Hawaiian there.”
As Disney evolves, its assimilation into modern liberalism has become more apparent. With “The Princess and the Frog” hero Tiana, Disney became more ethnically inclusive. With the sauna scene in “Frozen,” Disney put a gay family in the spotlight much to the delight of the LGBT community. As Cravalho is both a native Hawaiian and teenager, Disney breaks the age barrier and sheds light on the beauty of the authentic Polynesian culture. The normality of Cravalho makes her the perfect role model for every young girl who is bound to drag her parents to the opening night of the film.
Not only does “Moana” make Cavalho’s dreams come true, but it also paints a picture that the entire Pacific-Islander community can get behind. “Aloha,” a flop of a star-studded film featuring Bradley Cooper and Emma Stone, was seen as a whitewash attempt at a genuine portrayal of Hawaii. The “Aloha” crew did nothing culturally or ethnically correct, and used Hawaii as a pretty backdrop for a film that was doomed from day one. For example, Emma Stone played the role of a young pilot who was a quarter Chinese and a quarter native Hawaiian. I love Emma Stone, but really? How am I supposed to believe that? It’s ridiculous.
“Moana” is in production right now, with the blessings of the Hawaiian community, and is set to continue with Dwayne Johnson playing the role of Maui. “Moana” will educate audiences about Polynesian culture, and the Hawaiian community has virtually no complaints. After the travesty that is “Aloha,” “Moana” will be a breath of fresh air that many will appreciate.
“Moana” hits theaters Nov. 23, 2016.