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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.

moana

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.

moana

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.


Thanks for reading this. To get updates on my theories, books, and giveaways, join my Mailing List.

Or just say hey on Twitter: @JonNegroni


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Modern Princess: Elsa and Cinderella Get Coffee

modern princess

Written by Jon Negroni (me) and illustrated by Kayla Savage.

That’s it. Oh, and you can find more Modern Princess here.

I’m done. I have nothing else to say to you. Sigh but I have to keep writing, you know. Something about SEO or whatever new word a guy in Texas made up last week. Oh, it’s an abbriev you say?

Anyway, I only want you to enjoy the comic at the top of this page. I have nothing else to say to you. It’s a comic. I wrote it. I was thinking about how weird it is for Frozen to get so much praise for doing something Brave did a little better. And yeah, it was an excuse to put a joke name like “Wish Upon a Star Bux” on the Internet in a way that makes an ounce of sense. Kayla drew it and made it a lot better. It was her idea to put funny names on the cups.

Do I ask for your input at this point? I guess. You guys like to comment on just about everything, so asking you to “Sound off below!” seems a little beggy at this point. Honestly, if you weren’t going to lend your thoughts before you got to this point, I’m pretty sure my prattling on at the bottom isn’t going to suddenly make you remember your desire to write something.

Let’s see, just a few more words to go.

Do you believe in God? I’m honestly curious. Lately, my mind has been spinning with the fear of the eternal, and the possibility that my narcissism doesn’t transcend my own mortality. I was watching season 1 of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. the other day (not a bad show, right?) and something Simmons said in the last episode freaked the chitauri out of me. Seriously,  I wasn’t expecting more existential crises from Joss Whedon so long after Dollhouse.

So I’ve made the required word count, but now we have a new problem. My brain hates ending things in an awkward way. I almost typed LaterLATER. We shouldn’t even talk like that, let alone type like that.

Bye.

 

Is Cinderella The Best Live-Action Fairy Tale Movie?

cinderella https://jonnegroni.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/cinderella-review-best-live-action-fairy-tale-movies.m4a

(Click here to download this week’s podcast episode)

Hey conspirers! This week on the podcast, we talk Cinderella, the latest Disney fairy tale movie to grace the big screen. Critics have been pretty kind to the film, but does it stand out amidst the ranks of Red Riding Hood, Jack the Giant Slayer, Snow White and the Huntsman, Alice and Wonderland, last year’s Maleficent…OK, maybe the competition isn’t so stiff.

On TWIL (this week I learned), we share some of our favorite YouTube channels for mocking our favorite movies, as well as the recent news on Popeye. Stick around for the Netflix Recommendation of the Week, as well as new Movie Releases for this coming weekend.

Our Song of the Week is “Our Own House” by Misterwives (yes, they do a song besides “Reflections” and I argue it’s better).

Enjoy the show, and don’t forget to rate and subscribe us on iTunes if you haven’t already! We always appreciate your feedback.

Question of the Week: What is your favorite live-action fairy tale movie?

Cool Things We Mentioned: 

The “Honest Trailer” for Cinderella

Everything wrong with Cinderella in 10 minutes or less

Genndy Tartakovsky and the new Popeye movie

Review: ‘Cinderella’

Cinderella review

You’ve already seen this movie.

I could leave it at that, but I’ll also add that if you’ve seen  Ever After: A Cinderella Story with Drew Barrymore from 1998, then you’ve seen the entire movie.

This new live-action retelling of the fairy tale classic combines the beauty and magical whimsy of the classical animated film with the sincerity and fleshed out character development of Ever After. Oddly enough, 2015’s Cinderella surpasses neither of these movies.

It plays it safe and matches the original fairy tale formula to the letter. Nothing more, nothing less. It’s not funny, though it manages to be charming thanks to beautiful sets, inspired musical scores, and Cate Blanchett as the wicked stepmother working as an acceptable counter balance to the fresh face of Lily James (no Harry Potter jokes, please). Even Helena Bonham Carter finds a way to fit her own flavor into this mostly vapid retelling.

Everything else is sadly forgettable, but that won’t prevent Cinderella from pleasing its many fans. I just wish it could have tried a little bit harder to be a little bit more.

Cinderella mostly excels at costume design and more in-depth imaginings of crucial characters, namely the prince. No longer a side character, there’s a real story now behind who Prince Charming is and why he’s so desperate for a life love. His first meeting with Cinderella is now outside of the ball, and under more humble circumstances. This time, she’s the one who doesn’t quite know what to make of the Prince, and that’s a fun change to the original story.

There’s less focus on the misadventures of the animals, but there’s a surprisingly odd amount of anti-feminism present in Cinderella herself. Unlike previous adaptations where she at least tried to escape the clutches of her evil Stepmother, this incarnation is content to just wait for someone to rescue her. It’s a strange decision for a movie that otherwise tries harder to feel more updated.

But in the end, this is the cut and dry Cinderella story with more detail, style, and story. It’s just a shame they forgot to infuse the little substance this movie has with some classic Disney whimsy.

Grade: B

Extra Credits:

  • Director Kenneth Branagh also helmed Thor, another “B” movie that feels surprisingly empty for such a rich mythology.
  • I would argue that Branagh is overshadowed in the credits by Chris Weitz, best known for About a Boy. Unfortunately, the script here is more akin to his other film, The Golden Compass.

15 Movies That Could Make 2015 The Best Year Ever

Pop Quiz: What’s the most anticipated movie of 2015?

BUZZER

The answer is too many. See, 2015 is shaping up to be a big (and I mean big) year for movies, and the list just keeps growing.

Below are just the 15 we know about: (in no particular order)

15. Mockingjay (Part 2)

The story so far is that the final movie in the “Hunger Games” franchise will be a two-parter. Because hey, if it worked for Harry Potter, then it works for Katniss (Catness).

14. Superman/Batman (Working Title)

The world’s finest are officially teaming up in 2015. I’m sick of talking about it too.

13. Warcraft


Based on the video game responsible for ending millions of relationships, Warcraft is currently in pre-production and has been announced as a 2015 title. I’m skeptical on whether or not this will translate well to film, but the lore is definitely rich enough to craft (unintended pun) an immersive fantasy film.

12. Avengers: Age of Ultron


Like I said, it’s going to be a big year.

11. Pixar’s “Inside Out”


I know what you’re thinking. Of course the Pixar Theory guy brings this up. Well leave me alone! You know you want this too. Besides one other movie, this is the only non-sequel we know Pixar is working on and the concept is awesome and original.

It’s apparently about an amazing world that exists within the mind of a 12-year-old girl, who is probably Boo fingers crossed.

10. Assassin’s Creed


Even non-gamers have probably heard about this (maybe?), so I have high hopes for Hollywood’s next attempt at nailing a video-game adaptation. What they’ve got going for them so far is Michael Fassbender on the cast, but we don’t yet know how they’re going to handle the story.

All we know for sure is that Desmond and the Animus will be the driving force of the plot, which is unfortunate. That was easily the weakest aspect of the games, at least later on, but I understand why they want to run with this interesting premise of a man living as his ancestors and getting wasted with Leonardo DaVinci.

9. Peanuts


Maybe it’s just the nostalgia talking, but I’m weirdly excited about this. It’s in 3D so it will probably make the TV movies look like District 9 (I’m bad at comparisons), but the Peanuts characters definitely deserve to finally hit the big screen.

8. Star Wars Episode VII


I’m pretty sure I could just stop the list here…

7. Ant-Man


This will be the “other” Marvel movie coming out in 2015, but don’t expect it to get lost in the shuffle. It will be coming out in November, a month usually devoid of superhero action, and will be directed Edgar Wright

But Jon, who is Edgar Wright and why should I care?

Well inner dialogue, Edgar Wright has directed multiple movies and cult classics, such as Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World, and the recent film, The World’s End. We like this guy, basically.

Thanks Jon. 

Um…you’re welcome.

I love you.

6. Mission Impossible 5


Before Ghost Protocol, a sequel to the now 20-year-old Mission Impossible franchise wouldn’t have caused much excitement. But now we know just how good these spy thrillers can be, so let’s hope Ethan Hunt’s next outing lives up to the last.

5. Finding Dory


Technically, Dory has already been found (in our hearts), but that doesn’t mean the Finding Nemo movie will fail to make millions cashing in on our love for aquatic mayhem and feels.

4. Bond 24


The follow-up to Skyfall, considered to be one of the best Bond films of all time, will also be vying for our attention come 2015. Daniel Craig is set to reprise his role and Sam Mendes will also be returning as director.

The pressure is surely on, as the duo must be able to live up to the success of Skyfall, which may not be easily done.

3. Pitch Perfect 2


I could just say, “Enough said.” and many of you would nod at your computer screens and proceed to scroll to #2. Unfortunately, there are people who haven’t watched this movie, which means there are people who don’t like this movie.

Yes, I am one of those moviegoers that was forced to see this movie by attractive females and then walked out loving it. It was more funny than cheesy, although barely, and it has really picked up a rabid following thanks to word-of-mouth and meme culture. I’m expecting the sequel to make a bigger splash.

Also: Fat Amy.

2. Terminator (Reboot)


I only care because Arnold has personally announced his involvement, though I’m taking that news with a grain of salt. Though I’ve never been much of a Terminator fan in the past, I don’t doubt this will be a big deal in 2015.

1. Jurassic Park 4


Look, I’m not going to BS you guys. Dinosaur Island 4 wasn’t even on my list 10 minutes ago, Avatar 2 was. Then someone approached me and said in a 1920’s voice, “HOLD THE PRESSES, SEE! AVATAR 2 COMING OUT IN 2016, SEE! READ ALL ABOUT IT!” Then he threw an iPad at me.

So I panicked because 15 is a cooler number than 14, so I scavenged the depths of the internet to find another movie coming out. It was between Pirates of the Caribbean 5Independence Day 2 and a new take on Cinderella, so feel appreciative.

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