Disney Diversifies with Polynesian Princess Moana

Image: Walt Disney Studios

Moana (pronounced “Mo-ah-na”) is Disney’s newest princess, and very unlike the stereotypical Disney role models we have become accustomed to.

Disney are not only breaking their traditional concepts of story line, but also in their typecast of the leading lady. Moana is neither Caucasian, nor is she focused on finding love to discover her happy ever after; instead she is a courageous Polynesian, with much more realistic body proportions than her predecessor princesses.

Played by native Hawaiian Auli’i Cravalho, only 14-years-old and the last of the hopeful women to audition for the role, Moana was described as “smart, passionate, and funny. Brave, inquisitive, and confident” by the casting agency when searching for an undiscovered talent to fill the role. Alongside Auli’i Cravalho we can enjoy some A-list celebrities, with Nicole Scherzinger announcing she will be playing Moana’s mother, Sina.

The film’s directors, John Musker and Ron Clements, confirmed at Comic-Con 2016 “there is no romance in the movie”, and instead we can enjoy Moana’s journey of self-discovery as she travels through the South Pacific to recruit the banished demigod Maui, played by Dwayne Johnson (also known as The Rock), on a quest to save the world.

Admittedly Disney took steps away from the conventional love story, where a happy ending seems to rely upon a traditional girl meets boy marriage, when they released blockbuster film Frozen in December 2013. This story of overpowering sisterly love saw huge success, winning Oscars, Golden Globes and BAFTAs, as well as becoming the highest-grossing animated film of all time.

What Moana finally provides is a role model for young girls who isn’t a damsel in distress waiting for her prince to come and rescue her, like Aurora who slept for the majority of Sleeping Beauty, and a storyline ending that isn’t concluded by an engagement ring or marriage.

Moana has also been praised for increasing the diversity in the Disney princesses, becoming the first Polynesian princess and expanding the available female role models for the next generation.

However, there has been some disrepute surrounding the demigod Maui’s appearance, who accompanies Moana on her journey. The depiction of Maui has received complaints for being cast as obese.

With nine of the ten most obese nations in the world coming from the Pacific Islands, according to data from the World Health Organisation in 2014, many claim this to be an insulting stereotype. However, equally weighted are those who claim Maui’s appearance represents a strong and powerful figure, not dissimilar from his voice casting, Dwayne Johnson.

In 2012 Disney released a tomboy-esque princess, a free-spirited archer called Merida from the film Brave, that also created controversy around her styling. The animated heroine finally had the characteristics of a real girl, without the flawless and more glamorous looks of the previous princesses. However, when Disney released a new range of toys it was evident to many they had ‘sexualised’ Merida by slimming her waist, styling her hair, and increasing her chest size, eyes and eyelashes. This caused a huge backlash on Twitter, and subsequently Disney removed the new and ‘improved’ Merida image from their website.

What princess can or should we expect Disney to provide their audiences with next?

Perhaps after Moana there will be a physically disabled princess we can admire, and a same sex marriage that will be celebrated as the happy ever after. We can only hope Disney continue to take steps, and eventually giant leaps, to provide the next generations with more realistic and diverse role models.

See below for the trailer which comes out in November 2016:


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