Fiction, Movies, Reviews, Writing

Moana: could she be the best Disney princess?

Some of you out there may be Dinsey nuts. Some of you may be Dinsey haters. Some may think Disney is for children, some of you may have had Disney themed weddings. But regardless, Disney is important, shaping the minds of children. And since 1937 with ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs’ it has been creating idealised female role models and the developing nature of these women and girls not only informs but reflects the times they were created in.

I believe that Moana – if not the best Disney film of all times, by far gives us a new princess for the modern world.

Obviously, it’s clear Disney is finally embracing the idea of portraying more diverse cultures. Their depiction of Polynesian culture and heritage, while it may have its flaws, at least shows that it’s possible to do these things without offending all and sundry. Hopefully, this will make them brave enough to do it again and keep doing it until they get it perfect.

However, other than the point on diversity, it’s true Moana isn’t exactly breaking down walls in other areas. It’s impossible to escape the Disney Princess format. As Maui says in the movie, ‘You’re in a dress and you’ve got an animal sidekick: you’re a princess.’

And all Disney Princess movies have the same key elements:

  1. Role model heroine
  2. The men are in two categories; love interest the heroine must overcome something to gain (Little Mermaid, Snow White) or love interest in need of the female character’s love and guidance (Princess and the Frog, Beauty and the Beast)
  3. A magical quest
  4. A magical companion/s
  5. A wholesome moral message (e.g. Mulan ‘don’t let others define you’.)

So in this way, Moana differs only in the respect that Maui is not a love interest. But still, he is a man in need of friendship and the guidance of our heroine’s bravery and self-sacrifice.

But I would argue that Moana embodies the message ‘know who you are’. For millennials especially, where so much of your life seems to be dependant on how many ‘likes’ you get and how you appear to others, it’s an idea worth reflecting on.

I stumbled on this paragraph from the Business Insider which I think perfectly sums up Moana.

It also seems as if Moana is a long-time coming. If anything, this princess is the slow piecing together of Disney’s previous princesses. Looking at Moana, I’m totally seeing the adventurous side of Rapunzel (Tangled), the curiosity of Ariel (The Little Mermaid), the warrior spirit of Mulan (Mulan), and the bold questing personality of Anna (Frozen) all wrapped up into one.

Michelle Lulic writing for the Business Insider

And I think that makes the point that while our previous princesses have all embodied an admirable quality or two, it’s the first time we’ve had such a fully rounded character such as Moana who can be both strong and vulnerable.

giphy (1)

What I found interesting was the divide between what she should do as the chief’s daughter and what she wanted to do, travel the sea. Unlike Ariel in the Little Mermaid who sacrifices duty for her love interest or Meredith (one of my absolute favourite princesses) who turns her back on her parent’s wishes to be free, Moana recognises that she might have to give up on her dream in order to fulfil her duty.


Obviously, no one wants to watch a movie of thwarted ambition. And it would make for a pretty boring story. So, fortunately, her duty to protect her island and her love of the sea come together in her call to adventure. Find the demigod Maui and return the heart of Te Fiti. It’s something different than the rebellious teenager. It’s the level-headed bad-ass who recognises the ‘call’ and answers it with courage.

In a world where writers seem to struggle with creating strong female characters, Moana is, if nothing else, a step in the right direction.

Are you as in love with Moana as I am, or do you think she’s another carbon copy princess? Let me know your thoughts!


2 thoughts on “Moana: could she be the best Disney princess?”

  1. I’ve not seen Moana yet, but the reviews I’ve read and heard are strong enough that I look forward to doing so.

    The role of men as love interest in the princess’s life omits Frozen, love interest as treacherous villain. You probably know that was a later change to the script: Elsa was going to be the villain, but the song Let It Go was so strong that they decided it couldn’t be the song of a villain, so Elsa’s role in the story had to change.


    1. You should see Moana, I think it’s a really brilliant Disney. Frozen I love too, but it’s still pretty ‘get the guy’ centric. It’s pretty much the entirety of Anna’s story. I knew that about Elsa – they didn’t know what to do with her until they heard the song. I love how the different aspects influence each other. 🙂


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