Is Moana A Disney Princess? She's A New Kind Of Heroine

Disney's Moana has been making waves as one of the most anticipated animated films of the year and as of late November, it's sitting at a 100 percent fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. The film promises to be an inspiring and unique tale of a young Polynesian woman (voiced by the 15-year-old native Hawaiian Auli'i Cravalho), who has a sense of adventure, some animal companions, and a passion for the ocean. She is smart, confident, brave, curious, and caring — all the makings of a trademark Disney heroine. Interestingly, though, Moana is not a Disney princess, despite what people might think.

The team behind Moana has taken some steps in a progressive direction with the main character, and the news is that Moana is no Disney princess, but rather, a new kind of protagonist for the studio. Co-director John Musker told NBC News that "She really is a heroine and we don't think of her [as] a princess." I like the sound of that.

So what does Moana not being a princess mean in practical terms? For one thing, Moana herself is very literally not a royal princess — she's the daughter of the village's chief, which is different — and there's even a clever and self-aware gag about it in the movie. When Moana explains her lineage, demigod Maui, voiced by Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, quips, "If you wear a dress and have an animal sidekick, you’re a princess." That might have been the Disney party line in previous female-led animated movies, but here, it shows just how limiting and gender-norm-enforcing an interpretation that is. Can't a girl wear a dress and still have nothing to do with waving and bowing and tiaras?

In another progressive move, Moana's story has absolutely zilch to do with falling in love. There's no love interest in Moana, which is about the heroine going on an adventure to save her village and find herself. This isn't the first Disney heroine not to have a love interest — Merida from Brave didn't have one either — but Brave's plot involved Merida being required to find a husband despite her lack of interest, whereas romantic obligations are simply and refreshingly not a plot point at all in Moana. Plus, Merida was definitely a legit princess, while Moana, as said, is not.

Additionally, in an interview with Vanity Fair , Musker explained how he and the rest of the filmmaking team wanted to differentiate Moana from the classic Disney princesses by giving her an action plot as well as action abilities. They originally conceived of the film as being an action-adventure movie focused on the character of Maui, but after visiting the Pacific Islands, they knew the main character should be a confident young woman. Given that start, Musker and the team worked hard to make sure that Moana was a strong character, an "action adventure heroine" who could "physically take charge and command a boat across the ocean."

So rest assured, whatever princess stereotypes viewers might have come to expect, Moana is sure to reframe and challenge them.

Images: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures