What Makes ‘Moana’ Different From Other Disney Heroines

Moana directors Ron Clements and John Musker spilled the beans on what makes Disney’s latest heroine different from the other princesses. Moana revolves around an island girl who chooses to leave home to search for a mystical artifact. She meets a demigod named Maui and together they embark on an adventure. Clements told Den of Geek what sets Moana apart from her Disney predecessors.

Moana is a little different than the Disney heroines certainly that we’ve done in the past and other Disney heroines, that she is really the hero of the story in a way that she goes on a hero’s journey. Her mission is to save her world, to save her people. If she fails, the consequences are really dire and yet she’s up to the task.”

He added that Moana doesn’t have the element of romance in it.

“It was always really from where the character of Moana came, this girl that is drawn to the sea. We never had a romance for Moana. It was always thought of as more of a True Grit type story. It was not a love story. [It’s] an adventure story.”

Disney’s classic formula is to pair its princesses with men – from Cinderella to Frozen. One of the rare exceptions is Pixar’s Merida from Brave. Like all Disney and Pixar movies, Moana isn’t devoid of problems. Clements admitted that “it’s a little scary” but the team behind the latest film is committed to “work the best they possibly can.”

Moana and Maui adventure
[Image by Disney]

Prior to its release, Moana came under fire after Disney released a set of Moana and Maui Halloween costumes. The licensed outfits consisted of a Pacific Island top and sarong for Moana and for Maui, a chocolate-toned leotard stamped with tribal graphics that depicted his tattoos. Following the sharp outcries, Disney removed the Halloween costumes from its listing.

Controversial Moana costume
[Image by Disney Store]

The film likewise sparked an online debate after some pointed out that Maui appeared to be “too fat.” In a Facebook post, New Zealand Parliament member Jenny Salesa said that Polynesian men are far from overweight and what Disney did to Maui “is just not acceptable.”

Pacific Media Association representative Will Ilolahia likewise told Waatea News that the “depiction of Maui being obese is typical American stereotyping.” Designer Louie Mantia remarked that Maui isn’t Disney’s first “fat” character to begin with.

Disney is more determined than ever to release films bearing strong social messages. Bill Schwab, Moana’s art director, told the Washington Post that they knew from the start that Moana’s an “action hero.” Their goal is for her to become a reminder for little girls that they can stand on their own.

It seems that the studio didn’t fail for it garnered the approval of the Media Action Network for Asian Americans (MANAA). In a statement, the group’s president Guy Aoki lauded Disney’s decision to not “whitewash” Moana.

“There isn’t a single white person in the entire movie. Disney had confidence in their story that they didn’t have to compromise — as many filmmakers do — feeling they needed a white character for the audience to identify with. We’re confident that children of all ages and backgrounds will identify with Moana, a girl who fearlessly accomplishes the seeming impossible because she feels it’s her duty to help her people. She’s certainly an inspiration and a role model for girls. Moana doesn’t even get a love interest in this story. She stands just fine on her own.”

MANAA, an organization that advocates the fair and positive depiction of Asian Americans in media, previously extended Media Achievement Awards to Mulan, Lilo and Stitch, and even Up which included the young Japanese-American actor Jordan Nagai as Russell.

[Featured Image by Disney]