At Disney’s D23 Expo this past weekend, we saw some amazing things. The new footage from Marvel’s “Captain America: Civil War.” The announcement of “Gigantic,” the upcoming Disney animated film that will reimagine “Jack and the Beanstalk.” Some gorgeous footage from the live-action/CGI version of “The Jungle Book.” However, what I heard people talking about even more on the floor of the convention was “Moana” and how excited they were for the Pacific Island Princess.
If you’ve been online lately, you may have seen fan art for a Princess who’s official image hasn’t even been released yet. Why is this striking such a chord with Disney fans? Part of it is something I’ve talked about quite a bit. It’s all about representation. It’s not just having a Princess that isn’t white, because we’ve had a number of those. It’s giving her and the culture you’re representing the honor and research it deserves.
This weekend, I got to talk to “Moana” directors Ron Clements and John Musker, and producer Osnat Shurer about the film. Musker explained the film: “It’s a story set in the South Pacific 2,000 years ago. It’s a coming of age story which features a very strong-willed female protagonist.” Clements added that the name Moana means “Ocean” and said that she’s got a strong connection to the ocean and her ancestors, “and she dreams of bringing back the days of the great voyaging.” Shurer added, “And dare I say, she is badass.”
When I asked what made her different from other Disney Princesses, Shurer said, “She’s out to bring back the culture of her people. She’s strong, she’s determined, she’s full of heart.” Even better? Musker said that this is not a romance. It’s a coming-of-age story. Look, I love a good love story, but it’s refreshing to hear that not every Disney Princess movie has to be in love. Musker said that this is a hero’s journey, a la Joseph Campbell, and that she is, indeed, a hero to her people.
They did a lot of research all over the South Pacific, including Tahiti, Fiji, Samoa, Huahine, Moorea, and, “talked to people who are really connected to the older roots of the culture. Not the tourist parts,” Musker said. “We saw a whole different part of the culture.” Shearer said that not only have these people become friends but they checked their story ideas with them regularly. Clements added, “We want this film to be truthful in terms of what we learned from our experiences out there and the people we met.” He said the trips were transformative in ways they didn’t expect.
It’s wonderful to hear about something like this being taken seriously. Anyone else a little weary of adorable blonds doing things adorably and accidentally adorably saving a kingdom? It sounds like we’re going to get a strong, heroic lead with a story that actually respects a culture.
“Moana” will hit theaters on November 23, 2016.