One could argue that it is an American tradition for little girls to grow up wishing to be princesses. Disney princess fairy tales are appealing with their big musical numbers, handsome princes, and the sweet “happily ever afters” that always accompany the grand endings to these popular films.
But princess culture is a phenomenon worrisome to many parents — so much so that the New York Times published an article this June that discussed how princess culture influences little girls. Researchers found that more princess involvement for little girls does encourage traditional female behavior, like pretend cooking and cleaning, quiet play, and trying to not get dirty.
The article cited some fear from parents about how princess involvement can lead young girls to place more emphasis on their looks and behavior rather than their intelligence or personality. However, Disney is changing their narrative with the emergence of the latest Disney princess, Moana.
Moana is the daughter of a chief called to lead her people. Her father forbids her to venture into the ocean, but Moana always feels a distinct call to explore it and wants to explore beyond her island. But her clan is in danger when environmental decay destroys their food sources. To save her people, she decides to search for the demigod Maui to return the stone that is triggering the destruction of the island.
Moana is revolutionary for a Disney princess in several ways and gives many reasons for women to celebrate the beauty of being strong and self-sufficient.
There is no love interest in the film
“Moana” is the first Disney film where there is no love story or love interest for the protagonist. The film purely focuses on her journey to finding herself and restoring her island. The dominant male character is Maui, who does not save Moana at all in the movie.
Moana represents a shift towards celebrating diversity
Traditionally, Disney princesses have had petite frames and thin waistlines. While Disney has had princesses of color in the past, it was not until 2009 that they created their first African-American princess. The introduction of Moana with her Polynesian background, curly hair, tan skin, and athletic frame represents a shift towards diversity.
And this diversity works. According to Slate and The Guardian, “Moana” received $81.1 million in the box office and was the second-best Thanksgiving release of all time behind “Frozen.”
The film celebrates matriarchy
While Moana’s father is the chief of the island, Moana’s grandmother is her real mentor, informing her granddaughter about the history of their people and encouraging her to explore the ocean to save their people. Moana’s grandmother is the matriarch, and she passes the torch to her granddaughter. Indeed, the movie is a celebration of matriarchy.
She relies on herself to get the job done
Moana has no love interest, but what is notable about her is that she relies purely on herself to get the job done. One of the film’s most inspiring moments is after Maui leaves her, and Moana is thinking about giving up. She eventually finds the courage to fulfill her destiny once she realizes the key to success is inside herself, and pushes through her doubts. It is one of the most beautiful moments of the film.
Overall, “Moana” is a coming-of-age story that celebrates independence. While films still have ways to go in creating multidimensional roles for women of all shapes, sizes, and colors, “Moana” is a solid start.
Do you think “Moana” is a step in the right direction for Disney princesses? Tweet @issabasco.