Photo: Moana and Maui
Disney's animated film "Moana" became a successful blockbuster hit. -Image: Walt Disney Animation Studios

Disney’s first Polynesian princess will speak ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi when a Hawaiian language version of “Moana” premieres on World Oceans Day.

Auliʻi Cravalho, who was a freshman at Kamehameha Schools Kapālama when she was cast as the titular character, will reprise the lead role as Moana. Waiʻanae’s Nicole Scherzinger also returns to voice Sina. University of Hawaiʻi Mānoa student Christopher Kaipulaumakaniolono “Kaipu” Baker steps into the role of Maui.

“I can’t wait for everyone to experience this beloved movie in ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi, giving us all the opportunity to watch something that we already know and love in a language that is so special to us,” said Scherzinger in a UH release in April.

The University of Hawaiʻi’s Academy for Creative Media System announced plans for an ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi version of “Moana” in November. The redubbed film will be used as a Hawaiian language educational tool, but creating it with professionals from Disney Animation has already provided valuable experience to those involved.

The University of Hawaiʻi’s updates on the project included Baker’s perspective on the experience: “Just the level of technology and the professionalism that everybody had throughout the project made it feel that we were making a very strong and concerted effort to really put forth the best project for our people.”

Baker also pointed out that education will help Native Hawaiians advance: “Be what our ancestors were, which was really smart, literate, amazing scholars in their own right, and we can apply that to virtually every field and every walk of life so I think the University of Hawaiʻi is a really critical base to achieving that.”

The project pulled together five UH programs and was recorded at Honolulu Community College’s Music and Entertainment Learning Experience (MELE) program, where students and alumni worked on the audio engineering. UH highlighted some of the project’s key players:

  • Chris Lee, founder and director of Academy for Creative Media (ACM) System, served as executive producer.
  • Rick Dempsey, SVP Creative, for Disney Character Voices International (DCVI), provided oversight for the project for Disney along with DCVI Executive Director Bryan Monroe.
  • Heather Haunani Giugni, a Native Hawaiian filmmaker and cultural specialist for UH West Oʻahu’s ʻUluʻulu, Hawaiʻi’s Moving Image Archive, and Sharla Hanaoka, director of creative media at UH West Oʻahu, produced and supervised UH West Oʻahu ACM students.
  • UH West Oʻahu ethnomusicologist Aaron Salā (pictured) served as musical director.
  • UH Mānoa Director of the Institute of Hawaiian Language Research Puakea Nogelmeier (pictured) and his team translated the original script from English to Hawaiian.
  • UH Mānoa Theatre and Dance Kumu Tammy Hailiʻopua Baker (pictured) oversaw casting and directed the dialogue.
  • Honolulu CC MELE recording faculty member Jon Ross supervised the student recording engineers.
  • UH Mānoa ACM graduate Kaliko Maiʻi was associate producer.

In a statement when the ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi version was announced, Cravalho said, “I am so deeply proud of my Hawaiian roots. To perform the role of Moana, acting and singing in the Hawaiian language, is so deeply humbling and exciting.”

Other voices include Kelikokauaikekai Hoe as Aliʻi Tui, Kalehuapuakeʻula Kawaʻa as Puna Tala and Kamakakehau Fernandez as Tamatoa. Another two dozen ölelo Hawaiʻi actors and singers were also cast in the re-recording.

Disney’s animated feature has already been translated into Māori and Tahitian. The “Moana” re-recording is the first time a Disney film is being translated into Hawaiian.

“We are so thrilled that we have the opportunity to make a Hawaiian version of the film, especially with the incredible Auliʻi,” said “Moana” producer Osnat Shurer. “To now make a Hawaiian language version, after recently collaborating on Tahitian and Te Reo Māori language versions, goes beyond any dreams we had for the film’s impact within communities that deeply inspired the movie.”

The premiere will be part of Ko Olina Resort’s second annual World Oceans Day event on June 10, a collaboration with Aulani, a Disney Resort and Spa, UH, NOAA, the Polynesian Voyaging Society and other community partners. The event also features ocean education and sustainability activities and live entertainment. The film will also be screened on June 23 at Bishop Museum, as part of Ua Ao Kaiwiʻula: Celebrating ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi, Wayfinding and Culture.