Last week, many of us felt like we lost more than an election. As a woman and particular as a woman of color, instead of shattering glass ceilings, I felt smothered and boxed in. A feminist and forward thinking America was cruelly ripped from my grasp. It will be a long and rough four years for many of us in this country, particularly women of color, and that is horribly depressing to consider. However, with Disney’s latest edition to its kick-ass empowered anti-Princesses, it’s clear that there are many people still rooting for women; especially women who come from marginalized groups.
Disney’s exquisitely relatable, Moana follows 16- year old Moana (voiced by relative newcomer Auli’i Cravalho), the daughter of a Pacific Islands chieftain who adores her family and her homeland, the fictional island of Motonui. However, the precocious teen yearns for adventure and the unknown. Though her family, especially her father are desperate to keep her reigned in and in tune with the traditions of her culture, Moana cannot quiet the voice that calls her to the seas. That call grows louder when her island begins to suffer.
With some of Disney’s most breathtaking animation to date (seriously those water scenes were intensely magical), Moana rebels against traditions (as any anti-princess worth her salt does) and sets sail to find the Polynesian demigod Maui (Dwayne Johnson) in order restore her island to its former glory. Still, it’s not merely the animation that makes Moana an excellent film; the musical numbers are also on par with the classics of the ’80s and ’90s (I’m especially speaking of Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast). Helmed by Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda, these songs are spectacular delightful, “How Far I’ll Go” reigns supreme amongst them all. This is coming from someone who isn’t all that enthusiastic about musicals in the first place. But in returning to classic Disney tradition awoke the nostalgia within me.
Though rare for a Disney film, Moana’s parents are also very much alive, and yet, this anti-Princess is her own woman. She seeks her parents’ advice though she is more than capable of making her own decisions and finding her way. However, the reason that Moana is so fantastically relatable is that her “rebellion” is not a slight to her parents it’s a journey that she must take to find herself. There is a slight amount of teen angst here sure, but it helps further define Moana into an individual instead of just boxing her in as an entitled teenager.
In addition to the music, animation and storyline, Cravalho and Johnson are wonderful together. As the narcissistic demi-god Maui whose past actions are having detrimental effects on the people of Motonui, Johnson has perfect comedic timing. Similarly, Cravalho’s Moana is warm, determined and would be an incredibly BFF for any young woman watching the film. It’s also important to note that Maui never overshadows Moana, he has his role in the film of course, but she is the captain of this ship, and everyone is very aware of that.
Though Moana doesn’t exactly tread any new ground as far as the Disney narrative is concerned, it certainly continues the tradition of excellent films that the company has produced over the past few years; especially when it comes to speaking young girls in this current climate. In the film, Maui accuses Moana of being a princess saying, “If you wear a dress and have an animal sidekick, you’re a princess.” Whether the future chief of Motonui is or isn’t a princess is up to debate, but I do know that she’s not going to just sit back and wait to saved.
Moana hits theathers Wednesday, November 23rd.