Why the Disney Princesses Need Moana

“Moana you’re so amazing” – Maui

Moana soared onto our screens on Friday and has gained her place as one of Disney’s best female characters. Long rumoured to be the next ‘Disney Princess Film’, Moana has been highly anticipated this year, with merchandise and character meet and greets beginning before the film is even released. However, in the film Moana herself denies being a princess and she is constantly referred to by Disney as a ‘heroine’ during press releases and interviews.

But, Moana needs to be crowned as a Disney Princess.

It seems that in recent years, Disney is moving away from adding characters into the Princess Franchise. Frozen was released in 2013, and neither Anna or Elsa (who despite her queen status could kind of still be counted) have been added into the franchise. Disney seems to be happy with what the Frozen brand is producing on its own rather than adding to an already established franchise.

Therefore, with the introduction of Moana I worry that she will be excluded as a Disney Princess, with Disney preferring to market her as a stand-alone brand. And this seems to have been confirmed by an unnamed Disney spokesperson. This does suggest that Moana doesn’t need the Disney Princesses, however, the Disney Princesses need Moana.

The Princess Franchise has always been a powerful part of the brand, however few of the princesses can be considered role models for young girls. The Franchise is also not particularly diverse, with seven of the eleven princesses being Caucasian and only four being Princesses of Colour. This is not representative, and often the Princess of Colour films were racially inaccurate and not reflective of their culture. The lack of positive gender roles and Princesses of Colour is the Disney Princess Franchise’s biggest issue. Bringing Moana into the brand will not solve it, but she will help the brand take a progressive step towards diversity.

The first thing that sets Moana apart from the other Princesses (even Merida) is that there is absolutely no love interest. Although the original story line contained a love interest, which was the reason for Moana’s journey, this story was changed. This meant that the entire film focused on Moana and her own path of self-discovery, rather than featuring her desire for love or a relationship unlike so many other princesses. I found that this was one of the most refreshing things about Moana, as I could focus my attention solely on Moana’s journey to saving her island.

The second is that Moana mainly consists of female characters, although Maui and Moana’s father play a large role, it is Moana, her mother, her grandmother and Te Fiti that are at the centre of the story. The representation of positive relationships between women is something rarely seen in a Princess film to this extent. Although a kind man, Moana’s father reminded me a little of Ariel’s controlling and patriarchal father who eventually sees the error of his ways. However, it is Moana’s mother and grandmother who help and support Moana when she begins her journey to find Maui. Once Moana finds the demi-god, he is initially brash and rude to her (based on her age rather than her gender), but eventually supports and empowers her by teaching her how to sail and navigate properly like her ancestors once did. This results in Moana being completely independent when she journey’s to face Te Kā the lava demon.

Third, the ‘villain’ of the film is a woman. In Disney films, female villains often become evil due to their fixation on beauty and youth such as the Evil Queen and Mother Gothel. Although there are some female villains (notably Maleficent, Cruella de Vil and Ursula) who are evil for reasons other than beauty and youth. And carrying on from this, Te Kā (who is actually Te Fiti without her ‘heart’ that Moana is trying to restore) has become evil because her ‘heart’ that has the gift of life has been removed by Maui many years earlier. Despite what her grandmother once thought, it is Moana who restores Te Fiti’s heart, and rather than destroying the villain, Moana helps Te Kā realise who she truly is – another empowering moment for women in the film. This also shows that women supporting one another can have a truly positive impact – the act transforms Te Kā back into Te Fiti, and restores all the decaying islands, including Moana’s home.

I could list many more reasons as to why Moana is so different to her princess predecessors (and I probably will in the future), but after watching the film for the first time on Friday, these are the three reasons that really stand out. It is because of these three points and more that Moana needs to be crowned as a Disney Princess. Moana is a strong, independent, autonomous agent within the Disney Franchise, and is a progressive step to a more diverse Disney universe.

At the moment, it seems that Moana will remain a heroine, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The way that the film has been marketed in recent months show that Disney wants the film to be a success, and I am sure that it will be. Moana doesn’t really need the Disney Princesses, but the Princesses could really benefit from having such a strong role model for children introduced into the franchise.

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