Moana – An Awesome Disney Not-Princess

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I’ve always loved Disney films, but the older I get, the more problematic they become. No-one reinforces gender stereotypes like the House of Mouse. Given the way these films hook the brains of the young people in my life, that’s worrying.

So thank all the Rock-voiced hook-wielding demigods of the Pacific for Moana.

I’m a little behind the curve on this one, I know. Not having kids, it took me weeks to see the latest Disney offering. But when I did I was delighted.

There’s everything good you expect from Disney here. Fun characters, great animation, catchy songs – I can’t stop singing about how shiny I am, and I’ve only heard that song twice.

There’s also a level of fantasy world building that feels deeper and more interesting than in most of their previous offerings. Because this isn’t based in European folklore like most Disney, there’s more space to present something unfamiliar to an audience like me and more need to explain it. This is done as subtly as you can get away with in a kids film, using songs to make the exposition more entertaining. It creates a world and its people I found fascinating, with their isolated island life and gradually revealed ancient sea-faring culture.

On top of this, the central character gets away from the Disney princess cliches, to the point where there’s even a joke about whether or not she’s a princess. She’s self-reliant and strong-willed without being irrationally obstinate. She doesn’t end up needing rescue by men. Her life is in no way defined by romance.

This isn’t a hero defined by being female – it’s a hero who happens to be female. And an awesome, skilled, fun hero at that.

I’m sure this film has flaws. Everything does. But I was so blown away by the good parts that I didn’t even notice them. Maybe one day we’ll look back on this and see its failings, both in film-making and in gender representation. But right now it sets a very high standard.

I won’t say it’s my favourite Disney film. Until all the copies of Robin Hood are expunged from existence, no other Disney will ever displace it in my heart. But this comes a close second.

Go watch Moana. It’s one of the best fantasy films in years.