Moana is a little over a month away. It’s Walt Disney Animation Studios’ 56th feature, and we’re all hyped! Some of us have been on board the raft since June of 2013, when information on the film was leaked. Long before the Mouse House themselves officially announced it. Some, including myself, were there the minute Ron Clements and John Musker announced that they were at work on something new. Something that wasn’t Mort, which was thought to be their next feature.
However, some of the hype is already starting to make me a bit sour.
Now, I’ve made up my mind about Moana. I am definitely seeing it this Thanksgiving, because – again – it’s a new Walt Disney Animation Studios film directed by the Ron & John dream team. The story sounds intriguing, I love the setting they chose, I’m excited to see how it’s going to work off of the legends and folklore of the region, and so on.
Others, however, might be excited because the titular heroine is “strong”, is “badass”, and are very excited about the fact that she won’t fall in love with anyone in the film. Yes, this is rare for a Walt Disney Animation Studios princess, and the reason I like this is because it is a change of pace. I don’t have anything against a female protagonist having a love interest, but my logic is: Sometimes, not all characters (male or female) have to have love interests. The past princesses falling in love, however, doesn’t make them weaker or inferior to Moana and Elsa. Nor did they “need” a man or love to strengthen themselves.
Moana is pretty much being met with the usual reactions a newer Disney film gets… The reaction that says all past Disney princesses are bad role models, are anti-feminist, are this, are that. If you actually watch all of those princess films and actually pay attention to the narratives in each one, you’ll see that all of those claims are absolute bunk. Snow White’s Prince only appears for about five minutes, once at the beginning and once at the end. The rest of the film is Snow White, herself, finding a way to survive as her ruthless stepmother plots to kill her. No, she had to get battle gear and a sword, and take the Evil Queen head-on. That would’ve made her “strong”, right?
I could go on, but this is less about the merits of the Disney heroines, and more about Moana. Moana herself is certainly a kick-arse heroine, as we see her in action in all of the marketing materials. In fact, that’s all the marketing is really doing – showing you how much of an action girl the new princess is. (Nothing new, Mulan anyone?) In Japan, that’s not the case… Exhibit A, the teaser. No Maui to be seen here, either.
Japanese trailers for current Disney animated films tend to focus more on drama, beauty, the story, and characters… Comedy is a side dish here. In American trailers in general, the ping-ponging is aggressive: Jokes! Story points! Jokes! Story points! Jokes!
This is a good trailer, but it is very action-heavy and Moana is mostly made out to be determined, take-charge, and a little feisty… But there’s probably much more to her character than just that. Showing just those things, which we’ve seen before, makes the character seem a bit cardboard… And I have a feeling that is truly not the case!
The new Japanese poster surfaced the other day. Let’s look at it and the US one side-by-side…
Big difference here? The US poster falls prey to the typical “smirk” conventions, showing you that this “cartoon” means business, it has “attitude”. The Japanese one has Moana simply smiling, what a shocker! Heihei the rooster and Pua the pig are nowhere to be seen, and Maui is in his giant hawk form in the background. These are both good, well-made posters, but I slightly prefer the Japanese one. It shows a side of the character that we – I think – haven’t seen yet. With that image, I don’t get “Look! She’s badass and strong!” I get, “Look at the abilities she has!”
“Strong” and “badass” are boring to me. A female character should be one I can root for. Real characters come with flaws, believable arcs, and compelling personalities. I could care less if Moana can take down an army of coconut-helmeted pirates. I care more about the character’s personality, quirks, what have you. Moana will most likely be a great heroine, for this is a new Disney Animation film and one from Ron & John, who gave us Ariel, Jasmine, Megara, Captain Amelia, and Tiana. Their films have through-and-through great female characters. I’m sure Moana will fit in with all of them.
At the same time, I don’t feel the need to down the other princesses. Snow White, Cinderella, Aurora, supposedly all outdated and sexist characters… I think they’re great. Cinderella might even be my favorite of the princesses. Why is that? Think about it for a second. She’s treated terribly by her contemptible stepmother, and her equally awful stepsisters. She’s like a slave for them… And yet, despite all the degrading and verbal abuse, she remains positive. “They can’t order me to stop dreaming,” she says at the beginning of the movie. She’s even a bit snarky towards them, but here’s the best part… She plays her cards right throughout that whole film until getting freedom. Oh, and… The Prince? She doesn’t meet him until the second half of the film! It’s the Prince who immediately falls in love with her after they have their dance at the ball. During the climactic sequence where the stepsisters try on the glass slipper Cinderella left behind, Cinderella works with her animal companions to bust herself out of her room. She gets downstairs, the trio cause the Duke to drop the slipper, it shatters… Cinderella held onto the other one all along. Weak character, alright!
Yes, if any of those sentences shocked you, chances are you didn’t watch the movie. Or you didn’t pay attention when watching it. Cinderella may not have wielded a sword, or ran away from time to time, she may not have embarked on a perilous quest… She didn’t need to, she waited till everything fell into place, took advantage, and got herself a happy ending. I think being so positive in the face of such abuse is stronger than some might think, on top of that she’s even nice to those who treat her terribly. That takes a lot of will and a lot of maturity. To top it all off, like any great Disney character, she has a personality.
That’s just one example, but yes… Moana doesn’t excite me because she’s fighting pirates or doing dangerous things, no. Moana excites me because it promises a fun story with lots of action, heart, humor, magic, fantastical things, the whole smorgasboard. While clickbait sites will continue to cluck and crow about how “strong” Moana is, or how “she’s not like those OTHER princesses!”, I’m here waiting for… A darn good story with characters I’ll immediately like.
Heck, even John Lasseter himself says these kinds of things… I think he should know better, being someone who was a lifelong Disney Animation enthusiast, started out there, and is now running that place. Disney has done action girls before too, so Moana being an action girl doesn’t strike me as something new. The “no love interest” thing, that’s a bit. I like that. I was hoping since the day the film was announced that it wouldn’t reheat all of the 90s Disney Renaissance pictures, as the film looks to be in that vein.
On a side note, the American trailers are very quiet on the musical side of the picture. Is this going to be a film where they actually sing most of the songs onscreen? Or will this be a Tarzan-like situation? We’ve seen several things about The Rock singing, and the music was mostly written by a currently-famous guy who wrote a currently-famous stage musical… If it’s not a musical, I’ll be a little shocked. (Not disappointed, I’ll go whatever direction it wants to go.) But if it *is* a musical, why hide that. Frozen is the highest grossing animated film of all time and is still a worldwide phenomenon, and some of Disney’s most acclaimed and recognized films are musicals… Why hide that? Are they still desperately chasing the preteen boy and young male audience?
Anyways, ramblings aside, I’m very excited for this film… But, everyone else. Please, pretty please… Calm down. Don’t make this another Frozen situation. We can love the newest Disney animated feature without downing older heroines, insinuating it’s the greatest thing in the whole wide world, or making tons of generalizations about Disney’s animated classics. We have enough of that already…