“Aue aue, we are explorers reading every sign,”
sings the ensemble in Moana, and thank goodness Disney is finally exploring uncharted waters. Not only is their latest animated movie, Moana, set in the South Pacific for the first time, but it also marks Disney’s maiden voyage into the realm of anti-princess heroines and girl power.
Moana, which came out in November of this year, tells the story of a 16-year-old girl sailing the Pacific Ocean alongside a demigod named Maui to save her island from destruction.
In many ways, Moana is still a classic Disney movie: brave young girl goes on adventure with goofy, funny friends to learn about self, learn about family, and save the day. But in even more ways, it is revolutionary. For the first time in forever (no Frozen reference intended😜 ), we have a family movie that is diverse and has a female protagonist who is real and relatable. So 🎈here’s why, apart from the beautiful songs she sings and her dimwitted yet adorable animal sidekicks, Moana is worth your attention.
🌺🌊The first Polynesian princess!🌺🌊
To begin, Moana is the first Polynesian✨ princess, and her native culture plays a huge part in the movie. Both she and her demi-god friend Maui are voiced by actors of Polynesian descent. Moana has long frizzy hair, shiny light brown skin, and thick, beautiful eyebrows. Disney had already come a long way from the stereotypical golden hair and “skin white as snow,” but cultural appropriation is still visible in their pre-Moana non-white princess movies. In Moana, we see Disney actually trying to accurately represent the culture. Prior to making the movie, the directors took a trip to the Pacific islands to talk to linguists, archeologists, choreographers and village chiefs. As a result, Polynesian mythology, local traditions, and the people’s passion for navigation all play a big part in the story.
🌺🌊Realistic body shape🌺🌊
Has there ever been a Disney princess that has believable anatomy? No matter what race, culture, or personality, it seems that Disney princesses have almost always been wasp-thin and paper-frail, with tiny feet and not much muscle. They are capable of doing great things, but they are always confined to a skinny physique and always a victim of unachievable expectations for women in terms of their body shape. In Moana, however, we see her growing up from a chubby child into a strong and healthy young lady, holding her own against her majestic looking demigod friend. This is the image of a heroine we need right now–one who can credibly survive an open sea, defeat lava monsters, and achieve amazing feats, not someone concealing all her talents behind a skinny physique.
🌺🌊Does not have a love interest🌺🌊
More importantly, Moana is the first Disney princess who does not have a love interest 😎. Who said the only point of being beautiful and capable is to find yourself a prince and to live happily ever after with him? The new Disney heroine is enthusiastic, energetic, and always eager to know people, and her crew of friends is beyond cool. She receives love and support from her family. Moana has an especially close and precious relationship with her grandmother Tala, and gains strength from her. It is refreshing and reassuring to see that not all female protagonists need to be lovey-dovey.
🌺🌊Relevant values and qualities🌺🌊
Furthermore, Moana’s values are in line with the things girls need in the real world. She is tired of being the princess of the chief, and sets off on an adventure on her own accord to save her world. She is brave, indomitable, and ambitious. She is unafraid to hold people to account and convince them to believe in her cause.
Moana is going to be more than a girl belting out eternally catchy songs–she will become a role model for all types of audiences living in a world that demands that we advocate for ourselves.
In the movie, Maui refers to Moana as a princess and says,
“If you wear a dress and have an animal sidekick, you’re a princess.”
However, she is not a princess. She is what she says she is–a heroine. From Sleeping Beauty passively waiting for a true love’s kiss and Princess Leia in a golden bikini to Katniss Everdeen and now Moana, we’ve come a long way in the journey to a fully authentic heroine. Moana is going to transcend the debate surrounding Disney princesses, and change the conversation around cultural representation and female leads. And just as Moana says in her song, I am so excited to see “how far we’ll go.”