Moana – An Awesome Disney Not-Princess

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.

Fantasy and history – one thing leads to another

Having written on Friday about fantasy as a place where we learn some history, and about Robin Hood and the spectrum from history into fantasy, I got to see it all connect together over the weekend. Not only did I watch Disney’s Robin Hood (that’s right, the good Robin Hood), but I watched it with children, taking their first steps into understanding history.



I spent Saturday at my brother’s house, helping entertain my nieces, the terribly serious Princess and the unstoppable Ever-ready. The Princess is nearly five years old, Ever-ready two and a half, and thanks to their parents they’ve both acquired a taste for the fantastic.

After a busy day of playing and visiting the library, we settled down together to watch Disney’s Robin Hood, at the request of both girls. No sooner had the music started than they were enthralled, watching Robin and Little John run through the forest, excitedly telling me about the characters – who was good, who was bad, what animals they were and what they were doing.

For the first time all day, Ever-ready sat still.

Bedtime stories too

Bedtime showed the power of fantasy as well. Ever-ready’s choice of stories was The Reluctant Dragon, adapted from the story by Kenneth Grahame. The Princess chose Starcross by Philip Reeve, a space-faring steam fantasy – she has excellent taste. Both stories showed just how powerfully fantasy can capture children’s imaginations.

Watching the wedge

Watching them enjoy these stories, whether on screen or the printed page, I could see the thin end of the wedge of history slipping into their minds. They know what a knight is. They know how Victorian ladies dressed, and that they were expected to behave differently from men. They know about bad Prince John* and King Richard’s absence on crusade. They might also suspect that space is full of Moobs and that outlaws disguised themselves in Lincoln green, but we can correct that later. For now, they’re learning, and part of what they’re learning is a love of the past. Skipton castle is one of their favourite places.

The more I think about it, the more I think that the relationship between fantasy and history isn’t just the former feeding off the latter, it’s fantasy breeding a passion for history. And as a fantasy author and history graduate, I think that’s a great thing.

So how about you – do you have a passion for history, and was it fuelled by fantasy? Or maybe the other way around? I’d love to know.


* Having done my masters dissertation on John, I actually think he has an unfairly bad reputation by comparison with the rest of his family. It’s not that he doesn’t deserve to be viewed badly – he was responsible for several political murders, including that of his nephew – but that the rest of them deserve it too. I mean look at Richard. The guy was in England for five months out of a ten year reign, neglecting the country that funded his middle eastern killing spree – total dick.