Disney’s newest creation, in its long line of animated princesses, is possibly its best. Moana was released the day before Thanksgiving and is an incredible movie about the young daughter of a Polynesian chief, torn between leading her village and exploring the world beyond. There have been several other Disney movies with non-white heroines — Mulan and Pocahantas come immediately to mind — but this time, the creators of the movie went to great lengths to make sure they portrayed the culture correctly, even hiring cultural consultants from Samoa, Mo’orea, andFiji.
Moana is the story of a girl who goes on a quest to take back the heart of an island goddess named Te Fiti and ends up finding herself along the way. She is assisted by a demigod named Maui, but ultimately, Moana succeeds on her own. Unlike most Disney stories, there is not even a hint of romance. The movie teaches girls that they don’t need a guy to help them find themselves or to live happily ever after. It also has something for every age group and is definitely not just for children. The voice actors Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Auli’i Cravalho do an amazing job of bringing their characters to life.
The soundtrack alone is enough reason to watch it. “You’re Welcome,” sung by The Rock’s character, the demigod Maui. The Rock really exceeded expectations in regards to his vocal abilities. Cravalho, the 16-year-old actress who voices Moana, also has an excellent voice that fits her character. The songs are written by Lin-Manuel Miranda, creator of the Broadway musical Hamilton, Opetaia Foa’i, a New Zealand-based musician, and Disney composer Mark Mancina. The lyrics are in both English and a Polynesian language called Tokelauan.
The movie is self-aware, poking fun at Disney’s typical stereotypes in clever ways. It is important to note that the physical proportions of the characters are more realistic than in previous Disney movies. Moana has more “normal” sized arms and legs, unlike Frozen’s Elsa with her Barbie-like limbs. In contrast to many Disney heroines, Moana does not appear weak or dense. She is able to think for herself. She does not need someone to jump in and save her when things get difficult.
Maui and Moana work together to accomplish their goals. However, their relationship is not perfect; Moana has to show Maui that she is trustworthy and someone to be taken seriously. Moana’s grandmother is her role model and encourages Moana to pursue what she believes in. This is a refreshing change from the absent mother cliché that permeates the Disney universe. The lush scenery is colorful and vibrant and makes one feel as if they have been dropped into the movie.
In a society constantly reminded by the ideals that typically saturate the Disney collection, Moana defies the common trope of the damsel being rescued, depicting a heroine who is not only able to take care of herself but an entire island as well.