Auli’i Cravalho, a native Hawaiian, is the voice of the heroine in Walt Disney Animation Studios’ “Moana,” which opens Nov. 23. The comedy adventure, which also stars Dwayne Johnson, features a daring teenager on a seafaring mission to save her people. The story is inspired in part by the oral histories of Oceania. Cravalho, a high school sophomore who turns 16 on Nov. 22, grew up singing and dancing for family and friends. Born in Kohala on the island of Hawaii, she lives with her mother in Mililani, on the island of Oahu.
Below are edited excerpts from an interview with her.
Q: Let’s say I was your friend coming to visit for a few days. What would you show me?
A: Well, my friend, I would not take you to Waikiki, unless you absolutely had to do some shopping; then I suppose you could go for a few hours.
Q: Why aren’t we going to Waikiki?
A: So many people stop there, and then that’s it. There’s so much more of the island to see, and so much more to do than shopping.
Q: So where to?
A: Get your bathing suit, because we’re going to my favorite beach, Lanikai, on the other side of the island. I love our beaches so much, and I’m grateful that we really take care of them. The next day, we’re going to Iolani Palace, which was where King Kalakaua and Queen Liliuokalani lived. You can feel the history as soon as you step in. Oh, and we have to go to the Halona Blowhole. It’s a long drive, but you have to see it. When the waves are large enough, water shoots up in the air through a hole. Then we’re going to Koko Head, which is one of my favorite hikes. There are a lot a stairs, but the view at the top is absolutely beautiful. The last time I went, my legs were burning for days.
Q: Hawaiian shave ice sounds delicious. Do you have any favorite spots to recommend?
A: I’m not sure where the best places are, because I’m more of a Jamba Juice person. I think, do I really want to want to buy ice with sugar on it, and the answer is no. What I really love are açai bowls, with berries, granola and so much honey. Technically, it’s shareable, but I wouldn’t share.
Q: In “Moana,” your character has a deep connection with the water. Do you?
A: Oh, yes. I surf, swim, play water polo, and I paddle an outrigger canoe with my team. I’m also a klutz on land, so water is my thing. I think it’s really a cultural thing as well. I go to an all-Hawaiian school and we learn everything about being Hawaiian. We have a really deep respect for the water and the land. We say “mauka to makai,” mountains to ocean. I believe if you take care of the ocean, the ocean will take care of you in return.
Q: You’ve said you’re proud that “Moana” upholds your culture. What’s an example of that?
A: For one thing, they did five years of research before making the movie. That warms my heart. Also, in our musical team, Opetaia Foa’i adds such a great Polynesian influence. When I was recording, it was wonderful to hear Polynesian instruments and parts of our language.
Q: You also dance hula, right?
A: I’ve danced hula since I was 5. My mom danced hula as well. It’s been in my family from far back and really connected me to my ancestors.
Q: How can tourists get to know the real Hawaiian culture instead of doing touristy things?
A: If I’m being completely honest, I have no idea. I know my culture, the deeper elements, but I don’t know where anyone could do that in just a trip. It isn’t something you just stop by and see.
Q: You made the film in Los Angeles and you’re traveling to promote it. Where have you been?
A: Oh my gosh, I recently went to New York for the first time. That was amazing. I went on a Disney cruise to Halifax, Nova Scotia, and we’ll be going to Singapore and London.
Q: Do you have anything special that you bring along when you’re traveling?
A: Yeah, my mom. She’s my rock.