While most 16-year-olds would be thrilled just to star in a big-budget Disney film, Moana star Auli'i Cravalho says she also wanted to make sure the film-which is inspired by Polynesian mythology-got her culture right.
"I've grown up in Hawaii all my life. I grew up in a small town, where I literally grew up with pigs and chickens," she said at a press conference for the film in Santa Monica. "I am deeply rooted to my culture. I actually go to an all-Hawaiian school where the mythology and the folklore of Maui is in our curriculum and I've listened to those stories at bedtime."
"This is my first job", she said laughing. "It's a pretty good one, right? But, no-this has been an incredible journey and I'm working with the best people in the entire world."
"I'm making a film inspired by my culture, the culture that I have lived every day of my life-and that is something so incredibly special for the rest of the world to see," she continued. "But for someone who was hoping to continue in show business-Yay! I'm officially in show biz!-which is really exciting."
Cravalho said that she hopes her character of Moana will be an empowering role model.
"To have a film like this that will inspire me, and inspire others as well, to become rooted in who you truly are, that's something that definitely inspires me and I hope inspires others as well. That is what this incredible team put together-and I thank them."
Co-Director Ron Clements
Ron Clements, who, along with John Musker, directed Moana, says that in addition to making a film with the usual Disney Magic, he - and the others involved in the animated film respectfully portrayed the Polynesian culture and mythology on which the film is based.
"We went on a trip to Fiji so we could get a feel of a story centered on navigation of the ocean - and people's navigation to their ancestors," said Clements. "A lot of those ideas came from that first research trip and the movie was heavily inspired by that."
"The people that we met have stayed involved with the movie throughout it's production process, to try and capture as much as we could all of the wondrous things that we learned and the wonderful people that we met," he continued.
Lin-Manuel Miranda also was determined to make sure the music was respectful - and right for the film.
"I got the job and with my job offer came a plane ticket to New Zealand," Miranda said. "Everyone was already there. You know? The Pacific Film Festival was going on in the islands and choirs from all the different islands in the Pacific and we sort of immersed ourselves in this world."
"Opetaia (Foa'i, who is of Polynesian descent collaborated with Miranda on the music in the film) and Mark and I jumped into a studio and started banging on drums," Miranda continued. "We were really trying to find the pulse of this thing, that honored the unique cultural and musical heritage and incredible rhythms that come out of this part of the world."
Lin-Manuel Miranda and Opetaia Foa'i
If you find yourself thinking the music in Moana is impossibly catchy, you have two men to thank.
Lin-Manuel Miranda and Opetaia Foa'i.
However, while Miranda is better known, in large part to the Broadway phenomenon that is Hamilton, Foa'i is arguably more responsible for the unique, Polynesian style soundtrack.
Foa'i was born in Almagoto, a small village in Apia, Western Samoa. How he got to the point where he is working on a major Disney movie inspired largely by his culture and in which his work on the music is extremely important...well, let's just say it was not an easy road.
"In my culture, music is like breathing air and they can't understand why somebody would make a career out of playing music," Foa'i said. "So, I had to struggle with, throughout my whole career, my parents saying, 'Get a job'. They wanted me to become a doctor, etcetera. So I had to fight against that type of thing my whole life."
"I was born in a hut! A thatched roof hut!', Foa'i exclaimed. "So to find myself here in a big city and Disney (movie) like this, it's just beyond my dreams!"
"I'm just thrilled to be part of this amazing group of people," Foa'i concluded. "My mouth is still open. So, I'll just sit here. I mean, look at these guys! I'm in awe!"
Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson and Lin-Manuel Miranda
In Moana, Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson voices a Polynesian demigod named Maui.
He gets to be heroic and tough and humorous. You know, your basic "Rock" role.
Oh, and he also sings.
Lin-Manuel Miranda (the MacArthur Genius behind the Broadway hit Hamilton), who helped put the music together for this film, said at a recent Moana press event that he didn't really have to twist Johnson's arm -literally or figuratively-to get him to stretch his vocal chords in song for the first time in a film.
"I got a lot of questions from reporters . . . asking, 'How did you get "The Rock" to sing'? That's not what happened here," Miranda told Tattle Los Angeles Animation Correspondent Jerome Maida. "When Dwayne accepted the role, he said, 'So what are you giving me to sing?' He was really excited for this!"
"For me, I went to YouTube, which is where the answers always lie." Miranda joked. "I'm a really big fan of his wrestling days and there was a time during his 'heel phase' where he would pull out a guitar and taunt whatever town he was in! He'd sing something like, 'I Can't Wait To Get Out Of Chicago!'"
"So, I got a little bit of an idea of his vocal range from that 10-minute super cut," Miranda continued. "The rest of it was just writing lyrics that embody the spirit of Maui, who is this amazing demigod and a trickster god! Once I had the title 'You're Welcome' (arguably the film's most memorable tune, in which Maui shows his arrogance toward Moana), which Dwayne can pull off and have you love him and root for him, we were off to the races!"
Dwayne "The Rock Johnson
Speaking of Mr. Johnson, the man nicknamed "franchise Viagra" said at the same Santa Monica press event that Moana is unique among his films.
"'Aloha Spirit' is something that's very special," Johnson said. "It's very meaningful to us and our Polynesian culture. For example, those of you that have had the opportunity to visit Hawaii or any of the Polynesian Islands it's a very special thing.
"It's an intangible that that when you get off the plane and you have your feet on the ground, there is that energy that takes you to a different place. That is 'Aloha Spirit.'
"The opportunity that we had, just as Polynesians, to be part of a story about Polynesian culture, in this capacity, with our great partners at Disney (and) musically, with these masters, it was just a really, really special opportunity," he said.