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Why Disney's Moana Is the Classic Princess of New Age Fairy Tales
Moana proves there is a treasure trove full of fascinating stories that is yet to be explored.
Remember the days when Disney princesses were all about finding the prince charming and happily ever afters? The times when beautiful young maidens would fall for handsome princes and overcome all atrocities only to marry them in the end. It all started with Snow White in the 70’s and went on till the recent live-action Cinderella on the big screen.
In between came the much loved mermaid princess Ariel, The Sleeping Beauty Aurora, confident and rule defying Bella and Jasmine, warrior princesses Pocahontas and Mulan. All presented diversity in their own manner but ended up being damsel in distress in one way or the other.
Then came the new age feminism in cinema and the entire magical world of love and submissiveness was criticised for being regressive and rightly so, Disney took upon itself to bring in the much needed change. Then came The Princess and The Frog. The lead character, Tiana, was anything but ‘princess-sy’. She was an aspirational woman with a dream of opening her own restaurant and didn't wake up looking like a dream every morning. Disney also presented Brave and Frozen, films without any prince or a happy ever after but lots of magic and inspiration. It belonged to the princesses and their fears and aspirations.
Now comes the much awaited, first Polynesian Disney princess Moana. This 16 year old fearless woman has a restless soul and all the qualities of a leader. Moana wants more than her provincial life and finds herself drawn to the ocean; the ocean reciprocates the feeling, protecting and guiding Moana on her adventure. When the livelihood of her island is threatened by a creeping rot that has blackened the coconuts and driven the fish from the shores, Moana sets off to the high seas on a way finding canoe.
The film has no prince but a demi god who guides Moana on her adventure. This is another progressive step by Disney from the rose coloured ‘all in love’ spectacles to 'let-us-inspire’ the young woman and acknowledge their identity. Moana looks like a teenager and acts like one too. She is not poised like Snow White, neither suppressed by her elders like Cinderella, she’s a rebel in all the right ways and wrong and that’s her beauty.
Through Moana, Disney does the necessary work of creating a princess and cultural representation suited to present day. Moana is capable of convincing the unwilling demigod to teach her the art of ocean navigation so she can follow in her ancestor's’ footsteps. Her confidence in herself is nearly unshakeable and incredibly powerful.
Moana is not a gesture of appeasement but a sign of princesses to come - princesses unimpressed by demigods, undefined by romance, proportioned like actual people and not Western. Moana proves there is a treasure trove full of fascinating stories that is yet to be explored. These stories are beyond Hollywood’s typical lily-white, been-there-done-that offerings. For the biggest studio in the world, this is a step in the right direction, a sign that Disney is ready to go the distance and give the changing world its due and inspire strong women to be true to their identity and seek adventure rather than a happily ever after.