That hook? It’s called “Manaiakalani”. It’s why Hawai’i and New Zealand/Aotearoa exist.

Disney Animation Studios has regained their glamour of Walt’s era, where every new Disney animated feature is eagerly awaited and anticipated. And speculated. Whispers are heard from Emeryville and Burbank regarding any future films, and even a simple title card can set fans imaginations churning. Such is the case with  “Moana”, the next “princess” animated film from Disney.

Dwayne Johnson, cast as the Polynesian deity Maui,  made an appearance the D23 Expo last August, and we even got a release date: November 23, 2016.

But who else will be in the cast? Who will play Moana?

Today, Disney revealed that native Hawaiian newcomer Auli’i Cravalho, age 14, will play the title role!

Directors Ron Clements and John Musker played a little trick on her, during a video-conferencing callback audition.  Watch below, it’s adorable!

The movie itself is widely anticipated, as this will be the first female-centric animated feature since the Billion-Dollar box office success of Frozen. Disney animation has a string of very successful animated features, and it will be interesting to see if movie performs closer to Frozen or Tangled. There will be music, by Broadway MacArthur Genius Lin-Manuel Miranda, so expect an Oscar nomination, and possibly a win.  If he does, he’ll have beaten Frozen’s Robert Lopez’ record 10-year span of EGOT winning by three years. Disney veteran Mark Alan Mancina will also contribute music.

Here’s the PR from the mouse house, with some added details:

BURBANK, Calif. (Oct. 7, 2015) – Walt Disney Animation Studios’ “Moana” has found her voice following a worldwide search to cast the film’s title character. Native Hawaiian newcomer Auli’i Cravalho, 14, joins Dwayne Johnson in the big-screen adventure about a spirited and fearless teenager named Moana (voice of Cravalho) who, with help from demi-god Maui (voice of Johnson), sets out on a daring mission to prove herself a master wayfinder.

While hundreds of talented people from across the Pacific Islands were eager to try out for the role, Cravalho set her sights firmly on her sophomore year of high school. “I didn’t think I would have a chance,” she said. “When I was little, I used to dance around the house singing at the top of my lungs. In my mind, that was performing, and I loved the feeling of it. But I never imagined being in a Disney movie, being Moana—representing my culture in that way.”

Fortunately, the film’s Hawai’i casting director remembered an unrelated audition Cravalho did as part of an a cappella group, which had been submitted for a talent showcase for a charity. Feeling the local teen would be perfect for the Disney role, she tracked her and her mother down and invited Cravalho to audition. “Her audition was fantastic – she was such a raw talent,” said producer Osnat Shurer. “Auli’i was among a small number of girls we brought back for a second round of auditions. Then we flew her and her mom over to audition at our studios in Burbank.”

“Auli’i demonstrated a certain fearlessness in her auditions and call-backs,” said director John Musker. “She has a playful, mischievous wit. She can project vulnerability, she doesn’t seem intimidated at all by the challenges ahead, and her Polynesian background has helped shape her connection to family, hard work, and music. These are all qualities she shares with Moana.

“Moana is a vibrant, tenacious 16-year-old growing up on an island where voyaging is forbidden,” added director Ron Clements. “But Moana has been drawn to the ocean since she can remember and is desperate to find out what’s beyond the confines of her island.”

Cravalho has already started recording for the role.

“Moana” sails into U.S. theaters on Nov. 23, 2016.


Three thousand years ago, the greatest sailors in the world voyaged across the vast South Pacific, discovering the many islands of Oceania. But then, for a millennium, their voyages stopped – and no one today knows why. From Walt Disney Animation Studios comes “Moana,” a sweeping, CG-animated adventure about a spirited teenager who sails out on a daring mission to prove herself a master wayfinder and fulfill her ancestors’ unfinished quest. During her journey, Moana (voice of Auli’i Cravalho) meets the once-mighty demi-god Maui (voice of Dwayne Johnson), and together, they traverse the open ocean on an action-packed voyage, encountering enormous fiery creatures and impossible odds. Directed by the renowned filmmaking team of Ron Clements and John Musker (“The Little Mermaid,” “Aladdin,” “The Princess & the Frog”), and produced by Osnat Shurer (“Lifted,” “One Man Band”), “Moana” sails into U.S. theaters on Nov. 23, 2016.

In the meantime, The Good Dinosaur hits theaters November 25, 2015, Zootopia gets released into the wild on March 4, 2016, and Finding Dory can be found in theaters on June 17, 2016! Four Disney animated features in less than a year! Three of them fighting it out for the Oscar! (And… three Disney shorts as well!) Add in the January box office from Star Wars, plus Captain America and Doctor Strange… well, you might want to buy some Disney shares now!