It’s easy to see why Moana is – or should be – everyone’s favorite Disney princess. It may be the first time a Disney film has dared to go beyond familiar tropes. Moana does not need to be rescued. She’s a princess with a goal in mind, independent of a man. For a Disney princess movie, Moana is groundbreaking in every way.
In most Disney princess movies, the female characters rely on men to succeed. Often, they need a man simply to survive. Snow White needed the kiss of a true love (Prince Charming) to wake up from her deep slumber. Enchantment or not, Disney’s storylines tend to take away women’s agency from the start. So what’s changed with Moana? For starters, there is no love story in the film. There’s not even a hint of romantic interest. Most of us assumed that Moana and the demigod Maui would fall in love with each other – because that’s just the way it is? Instead, the film focuses on Moana’s job as a leader. It’s rare for a Disney princess to have so much power and purpose.
Some might argue that Disney films have offered enough diversity in the past. But how much of that portrayal was authentic, or at least tried to be? In Aladdin, Jasmine was blatantly objectified – she is a “prize” to be won. Without her love for Aladdin, her character virtually ceases to exist. Other women in the film were portrayed as older or unattractive. With Moana, Disney gets its first Polynesian princess. And this time, the creators seem to have researched her background and culture, traveling to Fiji, Tonga and Samoa. The depth of the narrative is evident, from the nuanced portrayal of folklore and myths to the song lyrics. For example, “We Know the Way” is sung in the Tokelauan language, which only about 3000 people in the world can speak.
Moana’s mission is to find Maui and restore the heart of the ocean. But even after a successful search, there is no rest for the brave princess. We see Moana working with her people to overcome the agricultural challenges on the island. This is not your average Disney movie where the princess marries her prince charming and they live happily ever after.
When Moana learns that her village of Motonui is in trouble, she sets out alone to track down Maui and restore Te Fiti’s heart. Along the way, she fights monsters and also has to put up with Maui’s mocking ridicule. Moana’s refusal to back down shows Maui that she is capable of anything she sets her mind to. If princess goals are still anything to go by, young girls everywhere need a role model like Moana.