As the debate over whether it's culturally appropriate to dress as Moana characters for Halloween continues, star Auli'i Cravalho tells fans: "Go for it!"
Disney characters have long served as Halloween costume inspiration for kids and adults alike. But one of Disney’s more recent movies, Moana, has sparked controversy among parents over whether dressing as the Polynesian princess or her pal Maui is culturally appropriate.
In 2016 — the year the animated film came out — Disney even pulled a Maui costume after customers deemed it racist. “The team behind Moana has taken great care to respect the cultures of the Pacific Islands that inspired the film, and we regret that the Maui costume has offended some,” Disney said in a statement obtained by PEOPLE at the time. “We sincerely apologize.”
As retailers like Amazon, Disney, Party City and Target continue to offer Moana costumes, Auli’i Cravalho, the Hawaii-born actress who voices Moana, wants fans to feel welcome to dress as the driven, strong-willed leading lady for Halloween.
“I think it’s absolutely appropriate,” Cravalho, 17, tells PEOPLE. “It’s done in the spirit of love and for Disney and for the little ones who just want to dress up as their favorite heroine, I’m all for it.”
And her directive goes for Moana lovers of all ages. “I would encourage anyone who wants to dress up as a wayfinder who journeys beyond her reef to figure out who she truly is, I totally support you. Go for it!” Cravalho says. “Parents can dress up as Moana, too.”
The only reason Cravalho won’t be donning a Moana costume this year: “I myself have tried to find a Moana costume, [but] I have not been able to find one in my size!” she reveals. So the teen star came up with a backup plan for when she celebrates Halloween in Canada, where she’s participating in a WE Day charity event.
“I was thinking of picking up a cardboard box or something and then drawing a light socket on it and then like a whole bunch of a colorful stuff so I could be — wait for it — a creative outlet,” the Rise star quips.
Still, Cravalho feels lucky that Moana is part of the new wave of Disney heroines providing positive examples of female role models to young viewers, but still has reverence for the princesses that came before her.
“I think each of the Disney princesses are just pretty reflective of their time,” she says. “This day in age, we definitely need a heroine who is the hero of her own story, who journeys beyond what her parents have done, who breaks the mold. That’s what we need right now and hopefully what we will continue to see later on, but there’s still things to be learned from other Disney princesses that we’ve come from. It’s just like our parents: We’re not like our parents and yet we can see the similarities and differences. We can always be grateful for what we’ve learned from.”
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Performing earlier this month in Billy Crystal and Quinton Peeples’ Have a Nice Day (available on Audible on Nov. 2) alongside Justin Bartha, Annette Bening, Dick Cavett, Rachel Dratch, Darrell Hammond and Kevin Kline gave Cravalho inspiration for the next step in her own journey.
“Have a Nice Day was actually the first time I ever performed in a theatre space,” says Cravalho, who will voice Moana again in Ralph Breaks the Internet. “There’s something about performing for a live crowd that I didn’t know would excite me and motivate me so much. And the only way that I would feel comfortable doing that would be to get into Broadway or to continue practicing on stage.”
As for the likelihood of Moana following in the footsteps of other Disney hits like Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King and most recently, Frozen, in being adapted for Broadway, Cravalho says she’d be open to the possibility.
“We just need one boat,” she jokes. “We should make this happen. It seems pretty low budget to me.”