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.

Thank you for reading this blog post! If there are any questions, feedback, or requests for future posts, please feel free to email me or post in the comment box below! Please note that any comments made on my blog posts may be used in my research, if you are not comfortable with this you may retract your post at any time by emailing me, or you can maintain your anonymity by posting as a guest.

Disneypol

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Return of the Feminist Role Model

The last time we saw Leia was with Luke Skywalker after Lando and Chewbacca went off in search of Han Solo. This could be interpreted as leaving the damsel to avoid the distress, or Leia could have stayed to make sure Luke was okay. Regardless, Leia was left instead of going to try and rescue the love of her life. But still, Leia returns as our feminist role model.

Return of the Jedi begins in a different way… We see a lot of Jabba’s palace, including the women he has dancing for him and tied up in chains. One of the main problems I have with Star Wars from a feminist perspective is how few women are properly featured within the films. Yes, we have a Leia and they are some women dotted around as extras here and there. However, Jabba’s women are shoved into the spotlight during the scenes at his palace and are essentially objectified. The only purpose they serve is for the male gaze – or Jabba’s gaze in this case – which is hardly encouraging for any women of any age watching this film.

After this disappointing beginning we see that an unidentified bounty hunter has brought in Chewbacca – however it is revealed that night that it is in fact Leia who has come to rescue Han Solo. She frees Han and soothes him when he panics after becoming conscious – explaining to him “I gotta get you out of here”. This is a nice role reversal for women in film. Rather than use the damsel in distress trope, it is Leia who conducts the rescue mission rather than any of the men in the film – and her actions are not questioned. However, this is short-lived when Jabba catches them, imprisons Leia and sentences Han and Luke to death.

The next time we see Leia we can see she is also a subject of the male gaze and objectification, forced to lie by Jabba in a revealing outfit. As the execution is taking place, Leia is seen to be loosening her chains despite Jabba keeping a tight grasp around her. He tells her, “Soon you will learn to appreciate me”. Leia seems to be completely trapped and when you watch this for the first time, you may fear the damsel in distress trope has returned. Of course, Leia never fails to disappoint and as soon as Luke, Han and Chewie are escaping from their fate Leia turns the power off and strangles Jabba to death with the chains he bound her in. Leia then frees herself from her chains using R2D2 and is rescued by Luke to get on board their escape ship. I think Leia killing Jabba is an important moment. Using the chains her freedom was bound by, Leia created a situation to free herself with those same chains. This is an important message for women and girls: don’t let something chain your freedom, and if it does – use what binds you to free yourself.

Once they are all safe Han thanks Luke for coming back for him, despite it being Leia that truly rescued him. However the audience are reminded of Leia’s integral importance through Yoda and Obi Wan Kenobi. It is here that Leia’s force sensitivity is suggested properly for the first time, that there is another Skywalker. Although this is the last real emphasis that is placed on Leia being force sensitive. It is a shame as it would have been progressive to have a female Jedi featured in the original trilogy. However, Leia’s skills also lie in diplomacy, which is an important role for a woman to have in this seemingly male dominated universe.

When there is a plan to infiltrate the new battle station on Endor, Leia is one of the first to volunteer to help Han, a role that she completely dedicates herself to. Not only do we see her return to action in Stormtrooper chases, but also we see her befriend and help the Ewoks, which provides them with an ally to defeat the Stormtroopers on Endor. This rapport between Leia and the Ewoks is also emphasised when a Stormtrooper captures her. Leia defeats the Stormtrooper thanks to the help of Wicket the Ewok. It is made clear she is very important to the Ewoks when Wicket takes her to meet the rest of the group.

Leia’s importance is also recognised by Luke Skywalker when he informs her they are siblings: “If I don’t make it back you’re the only hope for the alliance”. Although this is slightly big headed of Luke, I can see the sentiment is there. Obviously it is Luke that will ultimately need to bring balance to the force, but Leia’s contributions are invaluable to the cause and should not be held as ‘second place’. He follows on to say that Leia has always been strong, so it is clear that Luke only has kind and honourable intentions. However, Han also notices this moment and seems to interpret it in a different way – thinking that Luke and Leia are in love. Once again this reminds the audience of the love triangle that has been created between the three heroes. If you have read my previous posts you will know how I feel about this unnecessary love triangle. However, this is followed by a moment between Leia and Han where she asks him to hold her after he apologises for his behaviour. There is often a dichotomy between men and women in society, with the former being described as logical and the latter as emotional. I think this scene is an important move away from this stereotypical dichotomy. We can see both Han and Leia can portray both these traits – a progressive step for breaking traditional gender roles.

When the Battle of Endor commences, Leia covers for Han using a blaster whilst he tries to hotwire the bunker, however she is shot and they are caught. Leia uses her good arm to shoot both Stormtroopers so they can escape and gain control of the bunker. This is a pivotal moment in the film as it allows them to disarm the deflector shields in order to enable the rebels to attack the Death Star.

Meanwhile, Luke has been battling with his father Vader, who has eventually seen the light side and sacrifices himself for his son. In Vader’s death scene, Leia is barely mentioned and it seems to be a truly father and son moment. Although in a sense I can appreciate this, Vader has met Leia but not when he was aware of her parentage. Luke is the only child he has ever known, however on the other hand excluding Leia from this moment is unfair on her character. This moment is again emphasised at the end of the film when Vader returns in the form of Anakin’s spirit with Obi-Wan and Yoda – it is only Luke that can see them. This firmly plants the message that despite everything, Leia does not receive the hero’s ending. Unfortunately, the ending that Leia receives is the knowledge that she assisted in defeating the Empire and her reward, which seems to be the love of Han Solo.

These achievements should not be belittled. Leia played a key part in the defeat of the Empire, however I feel her role has not been emphasised enough. The final time we see Leia she is with Han Solo, rather than being able to see her father and the man she asked for help for in the first place, Obi-Wan. Leia is a strong female character and a role model for all, however the ending of the Return of the Jedi did not necessarily do her the justice she deserved.

 

Thank you for reading this blog post! If there are any questions, feedback, or requests for future posts, please feel free to email me or post in the comment box below! Please note that any comments made on my blog posts may be used in my research, if you are not comfortable with this you may retract your post at any time by emailing me, or you can maintain your anonymity by posting as a guest.

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Leia Strikes Back

The Empire Strikes Back finds Princess Leia at the forefront of the Rebel Alliance once more at their newly found base on Hoth. Although we can see that Leia is still an important leadership figure within the Rebel Alliance, we are also reminded that she is still the love interest of Han Solo. When she makes no reaction to his leaving, Han storms off in his typical Han way. Leia will not pander to his needs, however is not afraid to tell him that the Rebel Alliance needs him at this time of crisis – especially with Vader still searching for the new Rebel base. Leia is clearly a woman dedicated to her cause, not allowing any personal feelings she may have get in the way of her end goal. This type of character in a film franchise raises the question “can women have it all?” or, will Leia have to choose between a relationship/family life or her leadership role within the Rebel Alliance like so many women still have to in our society today. I think this is a key theme within the character of Leia, something that is explored in future films as well as Episode V.

Whatever feelings Leia does have for Han, she once again puts them aside to ensure she gets Luke Skywalker home, as he has not been seen for the majority of the day. After asking Han to go and search for him, both men have been missing for a considerable amount of time. She does not want to close down the base for the night knowing they are still out there, however Leia knows that she must in order to keep the rest of the base safe. This scene contradicts the traditional stereotype of women being emotional and unable to make rational decisions. Here, we can see that although Leia listens to her emotions, she is perfectly able to make rational decisions instead of being portrayed as a woman who is constantly reliant upon men. This is a very important part of her leadership style. Throughout the film we regularly see Leia in the control room, giving talks to the rebel pilots and taking advice from other members of the Alliance. This is an important message that Leia is sending to girls and women – a woman is strong and can be in a leadership role without questioning. This is not seen enough within films.

However, after this powerful scene Han once again reminds us that he must of course be the object of Leia’s affections and this is why she will not allow him to leave (despite the weather outside). Leia questions where he gets his delusions from and to reinforce her lack of feelings towards Han, kisses Luke. This action reminds us that Leia is perhaps unknowingly caught in a love triangle between Han Solo and Luke Skywalker, which this scene has reignited. Once Leia leaves, Luke smugly looks over at Han – which Han does not seem to appreciate. In terms of whether this undermines Leia, I am not convinced. Would I rather that Leia is not being subtly battled over by two men? Yes – I am not entirely sure what it brings to the story or any of the characters. However, I do not believe anyone could think any less of Leia for what is happening, if anything it is Luke and Han who perhaps need to think about their actions.

Despite Han’s questionable actions at times, we can see that beyond his arrogant exterior he does genuinely care for Leia. When the Rebel Base comes under attack by Darth Vader, Han helps Leia escape on the Millennium Falcon, and Leia returns the favour by helping Han and Chewbacca fix the Millennium Falcon when it experiences some technical difficulties. At one point she is seen to be struggling with a certain piece, where in which Han tries to intervene. Leia throws him off, determined to finish the job herself. This also shows the multi dimensional character that Leia is, although she is standoffish with Han (which one could argue is slightly uncalled for), it is most probably because she wants to do things herself. Once they reach a more common ground, Han kisses Leia and we once again see chemistry between the two characters before it comes to an end with the interruption from C-3PO. This kiss could also suggest that Leia can ‘have it all’ as she continues in her leadership role regardless of any potential relationship with Han Solo. However, this remains to be seen.

Han suggests that they visit his friend Lando once they have evaded the Imperial Fleet. Upon meeting Leia, Lando greets her with “Hello, what have we here?” followed by a kiss on the hand. This is the first time in the film where a male character has made subtle comments and actions about her physical appearance and gender to her face. Although Leia does not look too impressed with this, she does not make any comments. Instead, Leia tells Han about her suspicions of Lando, which fall on deaf ears. Instead, when they next meet Lando, he once again comments on Leia’s looks: “You look absolutely beautiful”. Once again, Leia does not respond to this, preferring to ignore Lando. I am unsure why Leia says nothing in response to these comments – perhaps because she feels unsafe in her environment she does not want to make matters worse, or perhaps she does not feel as though these comments warrant a reply. What Lando says could be regarded as a throw away comment – however I feel it is an important one as this is the first time Leia has essentially been objectified to her face. In a perfect world it would have perhaps been better for Leia to give one of her usual witty responses or at least a scornful look.

It seems that Leia’s suspicions were correct when we see that Darth Vader and the Empire have arrived in order to capture the rebels in order to create a trap for Luke Skywalker – who has been training to become a Jedi with Yoda. Vader agrees that Han is to be taken to Jabba the Hutt after being carbon-freezed, and Chewbacca and Leia are to remain with Lando. Understandably, Chewbacca becomes very distressed upon hearing this and is violent towards his captors. However it is Han who calms his friend down, telling him: “The princess – you have to take care of her”. On the one hand, this is a sweet gesture and implies that Han does have genuine feelings for Leia. On the other, this reinforces the protector/protected dichotomy that place women as the weaker gender. We have seen from Episode IV that Leia is perfectly capable of taking care of herself. Although it would be better if Leia stayed with Chewbacca, not for her own safety, but more for companionship (especially if they were to plan an escape), perhaps Han’s request could have been reworded. Despite this, Leia tells Han that she loves him, and holds onto Chewbacca as Han meets his fate.

Luke has arrived too late to save Han Solo, however Leia tries to inform Luke of the trap set for him by resisting restraint in order to protect her friend when she sees him. Once she and the other rebels can escape, we see Leia reunited with a blaster and we are reminded of Leia’s combat skills. It is also at this point in the film where we can see that Leia is force sensitive. When Luke has lost his hand and is clinging for his life at the bottom of the floating city, he makes a desperate attempt to speak to Leia through telepathy. She senses this and forces Lando to return for Luke, saving his life.

Once Luke is on board, Leia tends to his wounds, which on one hand shows Leia’s tendency as a care giver (which has perhaps been reinforced by the other women she has known in her life), but on the other shows she cares for her friend. However, when the Millennium Falcon comes under attack, Leia leaves Luke in order to assist Chewbacca and Lando. At some point it appears that she is co-piloting the ship, which shows that she can take initiative and is confident in herself to try new (perhaps) things. Once they manage to get away from the Imperial Fleet again, Lando and Chewbacca leave Luke and Leia upon the Rebel medical frigate, presumably to go and rescue Han Solo.

In light of this, Leia is still an incredibly strong character since A New Hope. Her leadership skills, confidence and assertive nature all serve her as three of her greatest assets. Princess Leia remains a fantastic role model to audiences. This time we can see a few flaws within her character, especially her reluctance to challenge Lando on his comments about her appearance. However, maybe no reaction is better than her gushing all over him… Leia has a lot more in store for us in the coming weeks, I wonder what Return of the Jedi will bring!

 

Thank you for reading this blog post! If there are any questions, feedback, or requests for future posts, please feel free to email me or post in the comment box below! Please note that any comments made on my blog posts may be used in my research, if you are not comfortable with this you may retract your post at any time by emailing me, or you can maintain your anonymity by posting as a guest.

Disneypol

The Force is Strong…

As it has been OVER A YEAR (I know I am a terrible person) since my last post, I feel that Disney Pol needs to come back with a bang.

And you know that bang is Star Wars.

Starting February I will post a new piece every week which will aim to examine the representation of women within this franchise. Now that Disney has taken over Lucas Film, this is an important chance for them to improve the way they feature women in the franchise. Undoubtedly many film critics have praised Daisy Ridley’s performance as Rey in the most recent addition – and so they should – however I would first like to firstly, take a look at the original triology, secondly, examine the prequel trilogy and finally analysing the Force Awakens and what is (hopefully) to come.

Now that life seems to have settled down a little I will aim to focus more time on improving my writing skills. I am currently a part time postgraduate student focusing on the politics of the Walt Disney Company’s merchandising – as well working in the week! However – it is important to have a creative outlet that will hopefully improve my writing as well.

May the force be with you.

Thank you for reading this blog post! If there are any questions, feedback, or requests for future posts, please feel free to email me or post in the comment box below! Please note that any comments made on my blog posts may be used in my research, if you are not comfortable with this you may retract your post at any time by emailing me, or you can maintain your anonymity by posting as a guest.

Disneypol