Moana (2016) is the latest animated film in the Disney princess franchise.

Featuring the voices of Auli’i Cravalho, Dwayne Johnson, Rachel House, Temuera Morrison, Jemaine Clement, Nicole Scherzinger, and Alan Tudyk, the film tells the story of Moana (Cravalho), the strong-willed daughter of the chief of a Polynesian tribe, who is chosen by the ocean itself to reunite a mystical relic to a goddess. She sets sail in search of Maui (Johnson), a legendary demigod and hopes to save her people.

Moana is directed by Ron Clements and John Musker (The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, The Princess and the Frog), and co-directed by Don Hall and Chris Williams. The film features music written by Lin-Manuel Miranda, Opetaia Foa’i, and Mark Mancina.

Moana was released theatrically in the United States on November 23, 2016, received overwhelmingly positive reviews and has grossed US$47 million to date.

I watched the preview on 7 November and got a chance to interview Cravalho and some members of the production team the next day when they were in Singapore for a press conference.

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Filmmakers auditioned hundreds of talented young women throughout the Pacific Islands before finding the gifted Native Hawaiian Auli’i Cravalho, who did not initially pursue the coveted role. The film’s Hawaii-based casting director recalled her singing performance from a video submission for a fundraiser/ talent showcase and asked Cravalho to audition. Three auditions later, including her first trip to Burbank, California, she earned the title role, thanks to her raw talent.

Meet Auli'i Cravalho

Meet Auli’i Cravalho

Auli’i Cravalho beat hundreds of other young women to live the dream of becoming a real-life Disney princess!

Watch our video interview with her on her experiences working on Moana:

The 15-year-old Native Hawaiian is a sophomore at the Kamehameha Schools Kapalama on the Island of O’ahu. Cravalho grew up singing and dancing for the family. She takes part in the her school’s Concert Glee Club, but is a newcomer to the entertainment industry. When she is not in school or performing, Cravalho likes to spend time with friends and family – studying, hitting the beach and dancing hula.

Born in Kohala on the Island of Hawaii, Cravalho resides on the Island of O’ahu with her mother, Puanani.

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After watching the film, you will find that Cravelho’s personal life shares many similarities with Moana and it is as if the role was custom-fitted for her.

The film is worth a watch and is a departure from the usual love theme that follows all the other Disney princess films. There is no knight in shining armour coming to rescue a damsel in distress. Instead, Moana works together with Maui to save the day. Talk about women empowerment! This is definitely the right move from Walt Disney Studios; not to mention casting a person of colour as a lead instead of the usual Hollywood whitewashing.

The storyline is pretty solid too.

I like how Polynesian folklores and culture are weaved into the narrative. After watching Moana, it made me want to find out more about the stories of the demi-God, Maui, as well as more on Polynesian culture and heritage.

On the technical front, the animation work is also stunningly beautiful. Water scenes and wet, curly hair are not easy to animate realistically, but this was done close to perfection in Moana. Pay special attention to Moana and Maui’s curly hair when they get wet to catch the attention to details. If you like the light effects done in the film, one of the lighting artist, Roger Lee, is a Singaporean who moved to America 4 years ago to pursue his animation career in Walt Disney Animation Studios.

Did I mention the songs are catchy too? There really is nothing not to love about Moana. Two thumbs up from us!

Moana is now showing in Singapore cinemas. Go catch it!