16-year-old Auli’i Cravalho was born in Kohala on the Island of Hawai’i. Photo: Amanda Jayne Lee for Geek Crusade

Disney’s new animated feature Moana, about a 16-year-old princess embracing her seafaring ancestry to save her people, opens in Singapore in two weeks. And the voice of Moana herself, 16-year-old Hawaiian native Auli’i Cravalho, was in town last week, together with other regional singers and voice actors.

Cravalho, who stars alongside fellow Hawaiian Dwayne Johnson (playing the voice of the god Maui), was picked from several hundred hopefuls after three auditions, after the casting director saw her singing in a video for a fundraiser showcase. During the press conference held at Marina Bay Sands on Tuesday (November 9), she revealed that she hadn’t actually sent in an audition tape.

But while Cravalho didn’t sing for us, she did charm the press pack with little anecdotes about the constant flower in her hair – “You wear the flower on the left side of your head if you’re still single – which I clearly am! And you wear it on the right if you have a boyfriend or a husband!” – and about working with Johnson. “He’s SO. COOL. He’s the busiest man, but he still took the time to give me flowers! That’s so sweet!,” she gushed.

Singers (from left) Janella Salvador, Maudy Ayunda, Myra Maneepat Molloy, Ayda Jebat and Minh Nhu will be performing covers of “How Far I’ll Go” in their native languages. Photo: Amanda Jayne Lee for Geek Crusade
There were also several interesting revelations at the press con from producer Osnat Shurer, lighting artist Roger Lee and visual development artist Griselda Sastrawinata. For example, directors John Musker and Ron Clements travelled all the way to the islands of Oceania to really study the culture and learn how best to incorporate it into the movie.
Actual water (with riggings placed underneath to help “animate” it) was also used as a model for the highly technologically advanced animated water the team had created.
The discussions eventually delved into empowerment, the key theme of the movie. Lee, a Singaporean, spoke of how he had chased his dream of working in Disney’s animation studios and finally reached it. Those present talked about the hope that the show will resonate with younger ones and the need to “follow the call of your heart”.
Photo: Amanda Jayne Lee for Geek Crusade
There was also a high-spirited performance of one of the movie’s key songs “How Far I’ll Go”, sung by four singers from the region, representing Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam.
The girls will be singing the official cover of the song (complete with music video) in their native language. Two of them, Myra Maneepat Molloy from Thailand, and Minh Nhu from Vietnam will also be the voice of Moana.
While sprinkled with a handful of interesting factoids, the event felt rather superficial. As Southeast Asia was presumably a small stop along the way to the rest of the world, the best they could rustle up were two regional artists who worked on the film (one whom you could tell was uncomfortable with public speaking) and a hastily put-together song item.
Thank goodness for Cravalho who brought the much needed Disney princess cheer to the whole event.
The Moana Singapore release date has been set for November 24.