Moana (2016)

“If you wear a dress and have an animal sidekick, you’re a princess.”

Technically yes, but Moana proves that we’ve travelled quite some distance since 1937’s Snow White. The latest Disney offering proves that the company is more committed than ever to the evolution of their patented princess stereotype.

Set in a visually illustrious South Pacific paradise, we meet Moana (Auli’l Cravalho), a plucky, independent and headstrong adventurer who believes she is called to explore beyond her waters, but is saddled with tradition and responsibility to her tribe.

When an environmental disease, believed to be an ancient curse, threatens to destroy her home and everything in its wake, Moana is charged to defy her father’s wishes and set sail across the lush seas to save her people. But before she can become the hero, she’s going to need to elicit the help of a marooned, shape-shifting demigod named Maui (Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson), the guy who started the whole mess in the first place.

As predictable as the story and subsequent adventure plot may appear, the film’s warmth and celebration of Polynesian mythology and culture, paired with the filmmakers’ desire to unpack their companies long standing definition of what a princess is, is what makes Moana a special treat.

Moana believes she’s the right kind of ruler and she is. She’s intelligent, resourceful and kind. She denies and decries the princess label Maui bestows upon her. She’s the antithesis of dainty and she has not the time for Prince Charming or his true love’s kiss. We’ve seen this anti-princess trend with Merida (Brave, 2012) and Elsa (Frozen, 2013), but this time the animators have gone a step further and modified her body type to more realistic proportions as well, deviating from the standardised (and comically sexualised) female figures of Disney’s past.

Moana is first and foremost an action hero, who must go toe to toe with The Rock, and for much of the film, she is every bit the Polynesian hero that people of all genders and races can enjoy and cheer for.

The other hero of course is Maui.

Why it’s taken this long for Dwayne Johnson to be cast in a Disney film is beyond me. His effortless larger-than-life persona translates flawlessly onto Disney’s exquisite tapestry of vibrant colours. While every song, co-written by Hamilton mastermind Lin-Manuel Miranda is equally as stirring and beautifully uplifting as the last, Johnson’s introductory song, “You’re Welcome” easily steals the show and perfectly showcases the actor’s bombastic and charismatic personality.

Disney’s animators have captured the heart and beauty of the South Pacific and their storytellers have crafted yet another touching, adventurous fable to inspire our children to embrace who they are and encourage them to discover what they’re capable of.

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