She’s Not a Damsel in Distress
Most Disney princess movies have women characters dependent on men to succeed. Often, they need a man simply to survive. Snow White needed a true love’s kiss (Prince Charming’s) to wake up from deep slumber. Enchantment or not, Disney’s storylines tend to strip a women’s agency from the get-go. What changed with Moana? For starters, the movie doesn’t have a love story. There’s not even a peek of romantic interest in there. Most of us presumed Moana and the demi-god Maui would fall in love – because that’s just how these things go? Instead, the movie chose to focus on Moana’s quest as a leader. It’s rare for a Disney princess to have so much power and purpose.
Some may argue that Disney movies have had enough diversity in the past. But how much of this representation was authentic or at least attempted to be? In Aladdin, Jasmine was blatantly objectified – she’s a “prize” to be won. Without her love for Aladdin, her character virtually ceases to exist. Other women in the movie were portrayed as older or unattractive. With Moana, Disney gets its first Polynesian princess. And this time, the creators seemed to have researched her background and culture by traveling to Fiji, Tonga, and Samoa. The depth in storytelling is evident: from the nuanced portrayal of folklore and myth to song lyrics. For instance, “We Know the Way” is sung in the Tokelauan language, which only about 3000 people in the world can speak.
No Happily Ever Afters
Moana’s mission is to find Maui and restore the heart of the ocean. Even after her quest is successful, there’s no rest for the brave princess. We see Moana working with her people to address farming challenges on the island. This isn’t your average Disney movie where the princess marries her Prince Charming, and they live happily ever after.
An Exemplary Role Model
When Moana discovers her village Motonui is in trouble, she sets sail by herself to track down Maui and restore Te Fiti’s heart. Along the way, she battles monsters and also stands up to Maui’s derisive taunts. Moana’s refusal to back down shows Maui that she’s capable of anything she sets her mind to. If princess goals are still a thing, young girls everywhere need a role model like Moana.