More Moana Please

Priya Kukreja, Co-Editor-In-Chief

Hair. Water. Princesses. Since the creation of “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” in 1937, Disney has come a long way in many areas. “Moana” showcases specifically these three in magnificent ways.

Featuring the daughter of the chief in the Polynesian Pacific, the animated film shifts scenes between a vibrant, lush island and a lively, enchanting ocean. Every curl in the characters hair and every ripple in the water is crafted with such detail that they seem to come to life, making Moana the most visually beautiful film that Disney has ever created.

It is also the most self-reflective. It takes on the challenge of addressing the phenomenon that is, as The Washington Post called it, Disney’s Princess Industrial Complex.

Moana is a proud, steadfast leader. She has refreshingly relatable qualities, ranging from the way she tosses her hair in a bun during physical action to her inescapable moments of self-doubt.

When Moana’s island of Motanui is in peril from an environmental threat, she is prompted to help her people. Against the wishes of her father and with the help of her grandmother, she voyages out to sea (with her trusty sidekick, Hei Hei the chicken) in order to save her island. On her quest, she meets shape-shifting demi-god Maui, who repeatedly calls her “princess”. Moana clarifies that she is “the daughter of the chief,” not a princess. “Look,” Maui said, “if you wear a dress and have an animal sidekick, you’re a princess.”

This description is oddly accurate for Disney, as the word “princess”  was once a way describe any girl at the center of a movie. However, most of Disney’s modern princesses are fairly anti-princess. Merida and Jasmine resist the royal expectations placed on them. Tiana spends her life working towards opening a restaurant, which she does, and then happens to marry a prince. Elsa finds freedom only after fleeing from her royal position as queen. For these powerhouses, being a princess was not a goal, but rather a burden to be fulfilled.

Moana has a more complex relationship with “princess.” She has an intense desire to lead her people and believes that she would serve well. Yet, her heart prompts her to travel out to sea. She knows that this could possibly hurt the ones that she loves, but in staying on the island, she would be abandoning a part of herself. For Moana, it is neither a burden nor a goal to be a princess—but in a strange way, it is both.

Many women have this sort of relationship with the structures and expectations of femininity. For example, we hear mantras of natural beauty but still fawn over the magic of makeup transformations. I am a firm believer in body positivity, but I also equally believe in the power of body shaping apparel.

Maui’s definition of a princess as simply someone in a dress with a sidekick demonstrates how irrelevant the very notion of the word has become, especially for Disney. Moana is not a princess, and yet she is. It doesn’t matter. Similar to how it doesn’t really matter if women choose to reject, embrace, or ignore traditional notions of femininity. Moana shows us that as long as we believe in our own spirit, there is no limit to what is possible—as long as there is a quirky animal sidekick by our side for the journey.