I will be talking about “Moana”. I will not be revealing any major plot points, but I will be revealing minor ones and talking extensively about Moana’s character. If you have not seen “Moana” and want to watch it with no preconceived ideas or biases, stop reading. Come back after you have seen the movie. See the movie soon and often. Buy the soundtrack. It is wonderful!
****SPOILER WARNING OVER. PROCEED AT YOUR OWN RISK****
Disney’s newest animated feature is an impressive offering based on Polynesian stories and culture. Moana, the eponymous protagonist is the latest ‘not a Princess’ to enter movie theaters and our hearts. She is impressive and is the female character we didn’t know we were waiting for.
Moana is yet again a new kind of ‘princess’ (She states in the film that she is not a princess, but if Disney can turn Mulan into an official Disney Princess, Moana’s fate is sealed.) She is unlike most of the princesses who preceded her in many ways. She has two living and loving parents who she has been raised by and with. No Disney orphan here! She is happy to accept the role of leadership that is being passed down to her by her father. Unlike so many previous princesses (Ariel, Jasmine, Merida, Anna, and Elsa) she is content with her life and takes her responsibilities seriously. Not only that, but she does them well. While she does long for more, she places her need for adventure second to the needs of her people. In fact, if there had been no crisis she would never have left Motunui. Honestly, it is a refreshing change to find the lead female character a contented person. So often it seems like the action in Princess movies are driven by the main character’s need to change the basic circumstances of her life. Moana’s actions are driven by the desire to save her people.
She is different in other ways as well. Surprisingly for an American adventure movie, Moana has no weapons. No sword, no bow or arrows, no spear. She has a paddle which she uses on coconuts. She solves conflicts with observation, intelligence, and compassion. She doesn’t fight. This is very interesting to me. Especially since she is the second character recently to manifest this trait. There is another movie in theaters right now, also based in a magical world (You know the one. They have theme parks, too) where the lead character does not use weapons and responds with compassion for those he is in conflict with. In both instances this trait does not feel contrived. It feels like a natural expression of the characters and a valid alternative to violence, something our movies have been seriously lacking in recent years. I, for one, enjoy the shift. It is good that we are presenting alternative methods of conflict resolution.
In a world where weapons are plentiful and anger is encouraged, we need some role models that set out a different way of being. To quote the gospel of Matthew, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the Children of God.” We need more peacemakers. We need more stories like “Moana” that show that peacemaking is not easy and is done by the strong. I am sure that there will be backlash and critics will complain about her lack of romance, her sarong, or some other foolishness to try to put the character back in the Princess box. Hopefully, Disney has finally broken down that box and recycled it into something better and stronger. I can’t wait to see what’s next.