How ‘Moana’ Finally Settled The Disney Princess Debate

disney princess

Disney’s Moana was a fantastic animated musical, and one of the main reasons why has to do with its handling of the female protagonist, Moana herself.

The animation studio was essentially founded on the cornerstone of the “princess” being a driving force of fairy tale movies, which eventually evolved into increasingly more diverse types of stories. Specifically, Snow White laid the groundwork as one of the best films of all time (animated or otherwise), as well Disney’s first feature film. And they later built upon this with Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty as smart ways to repeat Snow White‘s massive success.

This ended up being a saving grace for Disney after multiple near-catastrophes with bad box office, animator strikes, and so on, though Walt still believed in experimenting with non-princess movies like Peter PanPinocchioDumbo, and of course, Mary Poppins.

Long after his death in 1966, the Disney Princess transformed from an idea to an actual media franchise worth an insane amount of money and indicative of Disney’s influence over generations of children. In the early 2000s, it became an official thing, combining the classic Disney princesses of the old days with recent heroines of the 90s renaissance. And the criteria, at the time, was confusing to say the least.

disney princess

Obviously, Snow White, Cinderella, and Aurora were “inducted” into the official Disney Princess brand. Joining them was Ariel from The Little Mermaid, another obvious choice though different in the sense that she’s royalty of an underwater culture. Then Belle from Beauty and the Beast, who doesn’t technically become a princess until the very end of the movie.

Jasmine from Aladdin was another obvious choice, though striking because she was the first Disney princess to be nonwhite, and she’s more of a supporting character than a lead protagonist. Jasmine was followed up by two consecutive nonwhite Disney princesses, though: Pocahontas and Mulan. Though Tinker Bell from Peter Pan was technically a Disney Princess for a short time before getting replaced by Tiana and becoming a home video sensation.

They didn’t include Nala or Kiara from Lion King, which seems to be because animals simply don’t qualify. Same goes for Esmerelda from Hunchback of Notre Dame because she’s technically a gypsy, Megara from Hercules, and Jane from Tarzan. The first “modern” princess was Tiana from Princess and the Frog, then Rapunzel from Tangled was added as the first CG character. And the last Disney Princess in the official sense is Merida from Brave, a Pixar movie rather than a Walt Disney Animation one.

disney princess

These are the “official” Disney princesses, but that hasn’t stopped many other fans from considering the wider breadth of characters to fit the bill. Simply because the criteria isn’t always consistent (like with Tinker Bell and Mulan not being royalty). Eventually, Anna from Frozen will be added along with Moana, but no one really believes their status as princesses is held back until Disney slaps their own label on it and has their clique running around Disney World.

A lot of this might sound a bit silly and inconsequential, but there are actually heated debates held by…some…who argue over which Disney female characters are “allowed” to be called Disney princesses. And this is a big deal, in part, because countless kids look to the mainstream Disney princesses as a representation of themselves in these movies. Parents want their kids to have positive role models, and the Disney princesses, like it or not, are a major cultural force in that regard.

The more recent Disney princess from CG animated films definitely fit the more literal interpretation of what’s become such a pervasive line of business for these animated films. But Moana subtly settles this debate, I believe, once and for all. It points out that the semantics don’t matter, really, as Disney seems intent on including future princesses as it sees fit.


The pivotal line between Maui and Moana is what specifically points this out. Maui tells Moana she is a “princess,” but she denies this because she’s actually the daughter of a Chief (the literal view). But Maui banters back with self-awareness on the writers’ part:

“If you wear a dress and have an animal sidekick, then you’re a princess.” 

What he really seems to be saying here is that it doesn’t really matter. What makes these characters “princesses” has very little to do with royal bloodlines and more with the tropes that Disney infuses in its protagonists and supporting characters. A dress and an animal sidekick are incredibly broad. so Disney can in effect say from here on out that there’s no reason to overthink this merchandising franchise they’re so clearly benefiting from.

And that’s fine because it allows Disney to incorporate as many different cultures, hair colors, and clothing styles as they can with their princess characters, but not at the expense of the story making sense. Or worse, always falling back on traditional princess tales instead of doing something as “culturealistic” as Moana and Mulan.


Moving forward, I like to think that this line by Maui was allowed in the movie because they’re acknowledging how limiting it is to hold back the Disney Princess inclusivity for the sake of being so literal. It’s not relevant how these characters look on a family tree, but rather that they’re interesting characters who follow a consistent aesthetic and type of storytelling that’s proven incredibly successful for Disney since the 30s. Maybe one day, it won’t even be questioned whether or not a Disney princess is one because she wears a dress, especially if you consider the fact that they included Merida, a princess who is usually shown with her bow and arrow rather than a bucket of glitter.

But one thing’s for certain. The best Disney princess is obviously Lilo.

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Or just say hey on Twitter: @JonNegroni


If Disney Princesses Played Pokemon GO

princess pokemon go

Longtime readers and podcast listeners know that digital illustrator Kayla Savage has done some stellar artwork for this platform, including the logo for this page, the design of The Pixar Theory and The Pixar Detective, just to name a few.

Recently, we’ve been working on a comic series titled Modern Princess, which debuts with the panels you’ve just read. Kayla did the artwork, obviously, and I wrote the script. We’ll be releasing more entries in the coming weeks, so be sure to keep checking back for more, or just follow on Twitter.

And that’s not all, believe it or not. Kayla went to the trouble to produce a few bonus panels, which you can check out below:

princess pokemon go anna

princess pokemon go

Thanks as always for reading. Let us know in the comments if you like Modern Princess, want to see more mockups like the ones above (Jasmine with a Growlithe, anyone?), or if you just want to know how you can request artwork from Kayla Savage herself. Her portfolio and contact form is right here.


Snarcasm: Everyone in Disney Movies Is Related Because I Said So

anna elsa quasimodo

I’m very aware of the fact that my Snarcasm column has devolved into a weekly hatefest geared toward bad fan theories (or evolved depending on your tastes). But for obvious reasons, these “fan theories” are the articles you all have been sending to my inbox lately, so that’s what you’re going to get.

This week, I read a fan theory so asinine, so vitriolic in its apparent disdain for filmmaking in general, I had to pause and have an existential conversation with myself concerning whether or not I happen to be one of the reasons fan theories like these gain so much traction online.

I changed my mind on this because it also happens that GREAT fan theories with tons of great analysis are also gaining traction among countless readers, even if it’s at a smaller scale.

On Moviepilot, Karly Rayner posits,

Could Anna and Elsa be Quasimodo’s Ancestors? This Frozen Fan Theory Seems to Think So

In other news, “Fan Theories” have become sentient beings with the ability to think and comment on distant, totally unrelated family trees.

Let the film unanalysis begin.

Sometimes you see a fan theory so bizarre that you have the share it with the world

The rest of us just click away and pray to the Internet gods that our indifference will be rewarded decades from now.

and this Frozen/Hunchback of Notre Dame ancestor theory has been so well thought out that I just had to write about it.

Well thought out? Oh, we’ll see about that.

A Redditor named Chiquen

Not this again. Aren’t we done regurgitating every thought that originates on Reddit, Tumblr, and 4Chan?

has theorized that Quasimo could be Anna and Elsa’s ancestors thanks to a certain magical connection, and while there are definitely holes in the theory (that the author has acknowledged), it’s fun to think about the elements that tie tie the Disney universe together could apply to such wildly different movies.

Why? Why is it “fun” tying these movies together? I’m not saying that it isn’t fun, but it’s getting tiresome reading all of these connections that are made for virtually no reason.

Speaking as someone who loves to come up with fan theories, the best ones are based on a purpose. They have a reason to be brought into the discussion. Fan theories like “He’s related to her somehow” do nothing of the sort except to highlight how lazy storytelling would be if they all just boiled down to “Luke, I am your father.”

As we can see from his abilities to bring the Gargoyles to life, Quasimodo has been blessed with some sort of stone magic. Chiquen theorizes that Quasi was using gypsy magic (maybe unconsciously) right under Frollos nose.


Stone magic? When in Hunchback do we ever see Quasimodo “bringing” anything to life? The answer is never. The origin of the gargoyles is never explained, except that we’re led to believe they’ve always been at the top of the cathedral. The only “abilities” Quasimodo seems to possess is abnormal strength.

You can try to argue otherwise, but the fact is that the movie provides zero evidence that Quasimodo has any magical ability, or that he’s the creator of the gargoyles. A more plausible (and popular) theory is that the gargoyles were originally meant to be hallucinations, until Disney decided that was too depressing and let them interact with the real world.

Also, since when do gypsies have any sort of elemental magic? They’re known for being fortune tellers and seers of luck with slight of hand. Suggesting otherwise has no basis outside of “I want this to happen because it fits in my head.”

At the end of Disney’s Hunchback of Notre Dame, Quasimodo was no longer cooped up in the church and denied his liberty because he was a ‘freak.’

Well at least we know you’ve, oh sorry I mean Chiquen, watched the movie.

This means he would have had the freedom to travel, and his curious nature about the outside world suggests he would want to see as much as possible…Maybe even Arendelle! 

Yeah! And Pride Rock! And Agrabah! And the fake TV show in Bolt! And 3000 years into the future where the dinosaur does the collapses

Although taken enough by Arendelle’s beauty to call it home, Chiquen theorizes that Quasi begins to miss his gargoyle friends so he simply creates some new ones in the form of Arendelle’s bizarre, unexplained troll population. 

Except the trolls look nothing like the gargoyles. They don’t even follow the same fake laws of physics.

anna elsa quasimodo

The gargoyles could float and shoot rocks out of their mouths. That’s it. The trolls in Frozen rolled around and had magical abilities (they were even able to remove curses). There’s no comparison beyond “they’re both made of stone,” which is a weird observation, not an argument.

Chiquen believes that one of Quasimodo’s ancestors may have married into the Arendelle royal family which could explain how Else got her magic (although it has evolved over 400 years, possibly reacting to the environment) and Anna got her redheaded gene.

There are so many things wrong with this, I don’t even know where to begin.

Just to start, the headline says that Anna and Elsa are his ancestors, but now you’re saying they’re his descendants? This makes me think someone changed their mind on this halfway through, which doesn’t bode well for any of us.

But the biggest problem is that stone magic is not the same as ice magic (which I can’t believe is a sentence I just had to type). If genetics are somehow involved, how do magical powers change person to person, especially since you have to posit (again) that Quasimodo must have (apparently) married someone with ice powers. Then that person would have to pass that gene down over the course of 400 years and…science?

I’m not saying Disney likes to keep its science on the up and up. But even by their standards, these rules pertaining to magic aren’t just implausible, they’re completely removed from the limits of imagination possessed by the fine folks at Disney, and that’s saying quite a lot.

The argument of, “Well, it’s reacting to the change of environment” is also pointless to argue. What, there are no stones in Arendelle?

anna elsa quasimodo

Nope, just a tundra wasteland.

Next, you have to suspend all disbelief that somehow, someway, a distant foreigner moved to Norway and managed to marry his way into royalty immediately. Oh, and he’s a magic-possessing disabled man with abnormal strength. Oh, and the Hunchback sequel never happened.

Remember, this is Frozen. The movie where the entire kingdom called for the death of Elsa as soon as they found out she had ice powers. Apparently 400 years prior, they were more progressive.

While Elsa’s magic might be based on ice, she also has the ability to bring forth sensitive, friendly companions, just like Quasimodo although some might argue that this is a common Disney storytelling device.

By some, I think you mean “all.”

Because I could just as easily argue that Aladdin gave his carpet sentient powers right under our noses because that’s just as plausible as this theory.

Another piece of tenuous evidence

Tenuous? So it’s very weak? If that’s the case, WHY ARE YOU EVEN MENTIONING IT?

comes in the castle featuring a large portrait of Joan of Arc which could indicate their desire to preserve their French roots.

Hang in there, Jon. 

Of course, like most fan theories, this one is pretty tenuous and based on the authors own, personal interpretations of things and there are plenty of arguments that this is all coincidence which I will cover below.

“I just wrote about it anyway because I knew you’d read it. Now keep reading.”

Rayner goes on to parrot Chiquen’s own meandering around the subject, which boils down to explaining the stone magic/ice magic problem by claiming it’s just magic and the person “uses magic like a chisel in order to express themselves.”

Which, of course, is exactly what we saw in Frozen when Elsa couldn’t control her chisel, so her paintbrush got everywhere. Hey, both characters were in isolation most of their lives, yet Quasi is the one who apparently was able to control it so well not even the audience or the characters in the movie noticed it.

But Elsa can’t control it because…oh, we don’t want to go down that trail of thought.

Although it’s not the most convincing theory in the world, I love the creative thinking that has gone into this one and, at the end of the day, it’s Disney.

I love creative thinking too, but not when it’s aimless and provides no insight or analysis to justify its existence beyond the simplistic It’s Disney. Unless a theory is convincing enough to overcome this, there’s no point in sharing something that will make people feel like they wasted a ton of their time.

Because what is so interesting about characters being related? Especially when you have to grasp at so many straws to make it happen? It’s fun to guess at relation within a movie, or even two movies that share cameos. In that case, you don’t have to stretch much and it can provide some interesting discussion.

But crossing movies to suggest that every little character is somehow related to another character for no narrative reason comes off as a cry for attention, like you want to be the next person to posit the Jar Jar Sith theory or something similar.

To put it simply, there should be a threshold for which fan theories deserve thousands of words devoted to them on a popular platform. On Reddit, this is no big deal because you can go to a forum specifically designed to chat about theories and decide which ones make sense.

But on a huge website like Moviepilot, it’s far too easy for casual readers to stumble upon poorly researched content like this and just decide, “Hey, maybe I’ll stick to Reddit for movie news.” Therefore, they miss out on tons of other great content they could have otherwise enjoyed.

You know what is Disney? Carefully thought out stories that make you feel good after experiencing them. Let’s stick to that train of thought over obsessing which Disney characters have a 0.001% chance of being sort of related.

Hey! If you’ve come across a silly article that deserves the Snarcasm treatment, send it my way via Twitter or the comments below!

I’m Jon and thanks for reading this. You can subscribe to my posts by clicking “Follow” in the right sidebar. Or just say hey on Twitter! @JonNegroni

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