When it comes to princess films, Disney has cornered that market. Disney princesses are known across every continent, in nearly every country, and for many young girls, they set the standard of womanhood. Unfortunately, all of these princess (with the exceptions of Mulan and Tiana) were White, damsels in distress, victims of circumstance, and/or showcased severe Stockholm syndrome. Presumably because of much successful Disney has garnered when they featured strong, intelligent, competent young women who didn’t need to be saved, and the public pleas to featured more women of colour, they delivered in a big way with Moana.
Moana (Auli’i Cravalho) is a Polynesian girl from the island of Motonui. From the very first scene we get a refreshing glimpse of colour and life within the tight-knit community, and a pleasantly surprising depiction of Polynesians with dark skin, instead of light skin and Caucasian features. Seeing people of colour as they are, and not a whitewashed version, even in animation, is rare. Moana isn’t just some pampered princess, either. In fact, she isn’t technically a princess at all. She is a vital member of her community, and has been in training her entire life to be her village’s chief, after her father. It isn’t even in question that a woman has the capacity to lead her people, and it was also refreshing to see the quest for power not be the plot of a Disney film, which is also rare.
There is no backstabbing in Moana’s community; no one is out to get her, assassinate her father, or harm the villagers. And Moana actually has both of her parents. That’s right, people: Moana’s mother is not dead! She isn’t the typical motherless daughter or orphan girl that Disney likes to dole out to make the heroine seem even more fragile (or the fatherless girl who was forced to be self-reliant in order to survive, like Tiana). She is happy, well adjusted, courageous, kind, and not in the market for a husband. Moana tends to her duties by day, dances with her grandmother by night, and uses every spare moment in between to stare longingly at the ocean, which has called her since she was a baby.
Moana wants nothing more than to be on the open seas, but her father, Tui (Temuera Morrison), strictly forbids it. While this is the one restriction in her life, this denial of what her heart longs for is a source of pain for Moana, especially since the goddess Te Fiti has chosen her to for a special purpose, one which demands that she disobey her father and forge her own path. With the encouragement of her grandmother, Tala (Rachel House), Moana sets off on her own. Along the way, Moana doesn’t just find herself, but she finds Maui (Dwayne Johnson), a stranded demigod, and rescues him as well.
With all the beautiful animation, cinematography, and music that we’ve come to expect from Disney, and a new, moving depiction of a painfully under-represented ethnic group, Moana is an instant classic which is affirming for children of colour, and empowering for young women who choose to live life on their own terms and embrace their own unique gifts. This celebration of self, community, and culture is unforgettable.
I give this one 5 stars.