Meet the farm girl who became Disney’s ‘Moana’

“I found that interesting.”Right now, Cravalho is working on the nuances of trigonometry while going around the world to support “Moana.” Her only acting experience had been some school plays and “being the director and producer of my backyard plays,” the young actress says tongue-in-cheek.So performing and singing in a recording booth was new.“Sometimes I’d record a line up to 40 times, and the way I’d raise my voice or add a little bit of a question could change the emotional alignment of the scene,” she says.

She is tremendous poised beyond her years,” says Musker. Once he assured the directors he was confident she could handle the singing responsibilities in the movie, all they had to do was run it by Disney animation chief John Lasseter, “He fell in love with her voice,” says Clements.“Auli’i wasn’t afraid to do anything. “It was my first time in California,” she notes.There, the filmmakers had her perform more scenes and learn one of the songs written for the film with the musical director. “She’s fearless and smart and cheeky, like Moana, basically.”

Auli’i Cravalho has the grace, charm and down-to-earth quality of someone much older, but the high-school junior “kinda grew up on a farm. So he put her up for the role.The film’s directors, Ron Clements and John Musker, first auditioned her online — where she sang a song in Hawaiian. A casting agent in Hawaii had seen Cravalho in a public service ad and thought she stood out. I’m pretty much a small-town girl who was not expecting this really big role.”In fact, Auli’i (pronounced ow-lee-e) was the very last person to audition for the role. They were impressed enough to fly her to Burbank to meet her. We had chickens and pigs, and I went outside to climb trees.

Clements says it wasn’t a requirement that she look like the Moana they created. “That’s just a happy coincidence.”And one they took advantage of.In a CGI-animated film, the characters have to be created early, so it is nearly impossible to change them. But as Cravalho already resembled Moana, the animators were able to study videotapes of her performing and build in her expressions and mannerisms into the animated character — such as her smile or the way she would tie up her hair or stood or reacted.