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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.

 

The Pixar Detective, Chapter 5: Hair of the Catalyst

Hey everyone! Welcome to The Pixar Detective, a serial novel I put together based on the Pixar Theory. The following is a fictional story that explains the theory that all of the Pixar movies are connected and exist within the same universe, using original characters and artwork. The story answers a lot of questions you may have about this theory, but through its own ongoing narrative.

The story originally launched in April, and we’ve recently completed Part 1!

It is available as an iBook on iTunes, which you can check out here. If you can’t use iBooks, you can also download the PDF version. 

Once you’re finished, check back to our Table of Contents, where we’ll be continuing the story through Part 2. A new chapter is released every two weeks on Tuesdays. And please be sure to leave your feedback in the comments for us to read through. Enjoy!

wallabyandalecPreviously on The Pixar Detective: Still in search of their missing friend Mary, our heroes Stevin Parker, Wallaby Jones and Alec Azam used magic to travel through a door that bent time and space, leading them to a mysterious woodcarving workshop.

Their curiosity was peaked when the knives, pots and pans decided to come alive and attack the trio, causing a violent (and funny looking) battle to ensue. Right before escaping the chaos, Stevin snatched a code book left behind by his friend Mary, revealing the number “1935.”

The revelation sparked an idea within Alec, who turned back to the woodcarving workshop despite the danger that lay within.

Use the prompt on the sidebar to subscribe for updates or just follow me and Kayla on Twitter to stay connected – @JonNegroni – @KaylaTheSavage

Thanks for reading!

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