Each passing year, coupled with birthdays and my impending graduation from university drawing near, I become increasingly aware of the inevitable fact that I am no longer a kid anymore, and activities such as going to the movies, now constitute as a luxury, something done when time and my wallet permits. And even when I surprise myself with an extra bill or two, I try to stretch it for as long as possible before shamefully splurging on a “grande” drink at Starbucks, compared to my usual “tall.” So why then, did I find my twenty-one year old self, broke and stressed, at the movie theater the opening night of Moana?
A little over two weeks ago, Disney monumentally released Moana, their new and most recent movie no one seems to be talking about, but should be. Why is this Disney movie worth the obscene admission price of $15 at your local movie theater you ask? The answer: Moana is the princess young women like myself needed growing up. As the first Disney film with a Polynesian princess, and another one to add to the few but growing list of movies with a person of color, Moana breaks all stereotypes and shatters everything you once thought you knew about Disney movies and its princesses. With this in mind, it comes as a surprise that Moana box office sales undermine the movie’s value. When Frozen debuted, little girls all around, including my younger sister, immediately gravitated to Elsa and the world watched as the snowball effect phenomenon grew before melting away. Needless to say, Moana undoubtedly deserves the same level of attention and acclamation as its preceding counterparts due to the important message presented and the dynamic character depicted.
The movie possesses the typical formula familiarly found in many of their films: a princess (because what makes a movie a Disney movie without a damsel in distress, right?), a sidekick that also serves as a comedic relief, the evil force or villain character, and Maui, played by People Magazine’s “Sexiest Man Alive” Dwayne the Rock Johnson, serves as the prince, or so we think. Simply put, Moana is a female empowerment story that focuses on the woman and not the romance. Sure Disney has given us strong female characters before, such as Tiana from Princess and the Frog, Anna from Frozen, and longtime favourites like Mulan and Pocahontas from films of the same name to cite a few, so Disney proves competent in that department. But Moana succeeds where the rest came up short. The film isn’t just another love story like the majority of Disney movies prove to be and Moana is anything but your average princess. By focusing on Moana and solely Moana’s journey to save her island, the movie goes against all cliché prototypes and breaks norms Disney movies conditioned our young minds to believe and accept, primarily by accrediting Moana as her own “night in shining armour.” There came a point in the movie where I started to roll my eyes because I feared and sensed the predictable impending romance between Moana and Maui, but I was pleasantly surprised when the movie took a different path and glided past the moment.
From the very beginning of the movie, as displayed in the opening scene when baby Moana wanders off to the ocean despite her father’s constant warnings, we see that she is not a character who will follow rules and live by the expectations of others. She’s fierce, independent, determined, passionate, persistent and unrelenting. Maui on the other hand, whose character the film was originally to center on, proves to be unreliable when he ultimately bails on Moana, leaving her to get the task at hand done for herself: restore the heart of Te Kā to save her island Te Fiti. This moment in the movie offers all girls, regardless of age, race, and the state of your wallet, the chance to realize something all young women need to know: if you want to achieve in life, sometimes you will have to go out and do things on your own without relying on anyone to help you, especially not a “prince.” By having Moana save Te Fiti primarily by herself, Disney helps to instill the idea in young girls that you can in fact be your own hero.
Overall, the risk proves to serve as a daringly good move for Disney, or so I hope others come to realize. Leaving the movie with a renewed sense of purpose, I felt inspired and took a piece of Moana with me. Evidently then, Moana brings Disney a step forward in changing the narrative of Disney princess films that for quite some time now, so badly needed remodeling. The change, welcomed and appreciated, gives women like myself hope and something to look forward to until the time comes again to splurge on another movie ticket.