Eleven disney princesses. Those of which are from all around the world: China, Scotland, France, Greece, and even Arabia. There has never been a princess from any Polynesian descent, until now.
Moana is Disney’s first Polynesian princess – the twelfth official princess in Disney’s franchise. She has raised an uproar in the Disney community, encouraging a more diverse set of princesses to represent young women all around the world. Her story delivers a positive impact on today’s youth by providing a more realistic and self-love based journey than her princess predecessors.
Moana’s story is based on an island in Oceania (believed to be based off of islands of Fiji, Samoa, and Tahiti). Her island was home to thousands of the world’s best sailors and merchants for 30,000 years – until the sailors stopped showing up. This story is Disney’s interpretation of what happened to the sailors and native people of Oceania in the century that they disappeared.
Moana, voiced by Auli’i Cravalho, goes on an adventure to discover why the sailors stopped, and what she can do to save her people from the dangers those people ran from. She is joined by Maui, voiced by Dwayne Johnson, a self-indulgent demigod of the sea and wind. Moana is “friends with the ocean”, meaning the ocean manipulates itself for the benefit of her journey.
Moana leaves the safety of her island, facing an enormous lava monster and nearly impossible challenges with Maui. She defies all odds, not only by being a princess with a new ethnicity, but by having no love interest throughout her film. Moana is one of the only princesses to have a story with no intimate relationship, but instead focuses on her own journey.
Young girls have always faced difficulties when dealing with gender expectations. Disney’s other stories such as Cinderella or Sleeping Beauty imply that if you’re a girl, you are a damsel in distress, and only a prince can save you. This plot line has discouraged the confidence and determination of girls everywhere. Moana, along with Merida and Elsa, however, have begun carving a path of female empowerment. In Moana’s story, she is under qualified for her journey, but her strength and determination shines over the physical and magical strengths of her partner Maui.
While only announced last year, Moana has already made a positive impact on the representation of females through one of the largest movie producing industries in the world.
Moana, while culturally balanced, also includes more realistic factors not included in many Disney princess films. Often, these princesses are thin, with naturally straight or perfectly falling hair, with grace and elegance. Moana has natural curves, and like Merida, has large, wavy hair which has already been seen tied up in a bun when she is fighting or sailing. Moana is clumsy and natural, a representation of average girls, rather than Disney’s traditional depiction of a princess. And in that, Disney has embarked on a new kind of journey of its own.