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.

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

Or just say hey on Twitter: @JonNegroni


The Greatest Movies No One Thinks Are the Greatest

greatest movies

Hey podcast friends, we have an awesome episode this week with a review of The Nice Guys and the Louis C.K. show, Horace and Pete.

More importantly (in my opinion), we have a movie news trivia session via the Now Conspiring Game Show. And each of us argues a movie we think should be considered one of the greatest movies of all time, even though it probably isn’t already.

QUESTION OF THE WEEK: Each of us pitched a film we think should be considered amongst the greatest films of all time, but currently aren’t. Which of our movies do you agree with, and what is a movie YOU think should be in the conversation of all-time masterpieces?

Oh, and one last thing! The two Sampressions (Sam impressions) we have left for you to vote on are Gilbert Godfried and Stephen Hawking. Sound off your votes!

Go on…The Greatest Movies No One Thinks Are the Greatest

Netflix is Making Us Hate Movies

netflix movies

This week on Now Conspiring (that other movie podcast), we discuss the various news of the week, ranging from new movie announcements and some later developments on films we’re anticipating.

We also debate the future of streaming, led by Netflix and Amazon — begging the question, Will movies change forever because of how we watch them? 

QUESTION OF THE WEEK: We have two! First, what is your favorite manga and/or anime (we all share ours). Second, do you think streaming sites like Netflix are killing movie theater experiences, or will change them?

Go on…Netflix is Making Us Hate Movies

Why Hollywood Needs to Stop Making These Movies

Image Courtesy of

You’ve probably noticed a recent trend in recent years when it comes to Hollywood’s big “gambles.” It’s hard to pinpoint the originator of the films I’m getting at, so let’s start somewhere meager: Alice in Wonderland (2010).

This movie cost $200 million to make and grossed over $330 million, which is definitely not bad for a Disney movie. Sure, the movie had a lot going for it like Johnny Depp and Tim Burton driving the marketing, but I can get behind the producers who have since looked at this model for reigniting old franchises and mythology to new audiences.

Two Snow White movies, a revival of John Carter, and Hansel and Gretel’s latest witch hunting later, we have Jack the Giant Slayer, debuting at an abysmal $28 million this past weekend. That may not sound bad to some, but if you follow what these “kids” movies are expected to gross to meet production budget, then you’ll see that this is a huge misstep for New Line and Warner Bros, who made the film.

Image Courtesy of

At a budget of $300 million, Jack the Giant Slayer needed to debut at much higher numbers. Why? Well, for one thing, the opening weekend is almost always the biggest. Most people are only willing to shell out money for movie tickets when a movie first arrives, so profits dwindle as weeks go by (there are very few exceptions to this). This is a disaster, especially when you consider how the movie boasted both Nicholas Hoult (Warm Bodies) and Ewan McGregor (Moulin Rouge).

Just to compare, John Carter, a Disney movie you might not have even heard of came out last year making $30 million its first weekend, and the budget for that movie was only $200 million. So in comparison, a franchise featuring a story barely anyone actually knows about beat out a movie about Jack and the Beanstalk, a timeless classic. There is no doubt that Hollywood is missing something here

The first question we can ask ourselves is, “Why are they making these movies if they flop?”

I personally think that Hollywood should be catching on by now, but these movies are years in the making. By the time Alice in Wonderland was sweeping the box office back in 2010, film executives were no doubt getting into preproduction mode for the inevitable failures coming out now.

Look at Battleship for example. It was in the works because Transformers managed to make a ton of money with a solid trilogy. Unfortunately, Battleship didn’t fix anything that was wrong with Transformers, which was like everything, so the movie bombed. In the potential audience’s mind, Battleship was just another CGI fest being used to cash in a Hasbro brand that really had nothing to do with original board game.

Image Courtesy of
and I mean nothing.

The same is happening with these schlock movies that keep coming out in March or April, which is terrible timing to open a movie with a huge budget by the way, that are based on fairy tales and classic franchises.

It wouldn’t be that big of a deal if these movies were any good right?

Image Courtesy of filmofilia.comWell, I personally disliked all of the movies mentioned here, including the new Alice in Wonderland. But that really has nothing to do with why they flopped. They flopped because these studios are making huge gambles on the basis of “Well that movie worked when they revived this,” when instead they should be spending no more than $100 million on these movies and focus more on crafting a critic-friendly production.

Don’t tell me that the Jack and the Beanstalk story can’t be told onscreen with that kind of budget, especially with the talented Nicholas Hoult at the helm. Yes, marketing takes a huge chunk out of the equation, but Hollywood frankly needs to adapt to the new media. Has anyone else noticed that films are some of the biggest under-users of social media and online guerrilla marketing? Aside from obtrusive video ads, they aren’t really doing much, and it shows.

All that aside, these movies don’t work because they don’t resonate with audiences. Creatives and writers are producing a movie that has no focus on who its targeting. Jack the Giant Slayer wants to please everyone. It wants to look like Lord of the Rings,  have a complicated narrative for the adults, and then still  fulfill the nostalgia factor.

It does nothing to be good in its own right, which it could learn from Lord of the Rings. The same can be said of many of these CGI retellings that depend solely on their name to drive tickets. Well, that doesn’t really cut it anymore, not when television has managed to dominate the entertainment sphere this past decade, making the movie theater less and less appealing. I can do an entire article on how that’s the case.

The secret good news is that the major studios have probably gotten the hint by now. Disney sure has. Look at what’s coming out next weekend.

Image Courtesy of

Like what you read? Connect with me further via twitter @JonNegroni. I’ll follow back if you seem like a real person. You can also subscribe to this blog by clicking the “follow” button in the top-left corner.

Don’t forget to check out THE JON REPORT every day, updated at 8am for a list of today’s main headlines as selected by my editorial team (me) 


%d bloggers like this: