I'm cutting it close to the finish line when it comes to this entry, but I dearly wanted Moana to finish up the year and her film didn't open until Boxing Day here in New Zealand.
But here she is: our latest Disney Princess and our first Pacific Islander one. In many ways she's exactly what I expected: spirited and stubborn with the patented Dreamworks Face (which has been steadily adopted by Disney over the years) and attributed with a number of familiar tropes: The Chosen One, Junior Knows Best, All Loving Heroine...
But her role in the narrative and among the canon of Disney Princesses is a unique one. In extremely generalized terms, past princesses have either been subdued by a sense of duty (the three original princesses) or defined by a desire to break free of her own life (the three Renaissance princesses).
Moana grapples with both these problems in trying to reconcile her responsibilities to her people with her great love of the ocean, but it's important that Moana doesn't hate her island or its people, just as she can occasionally fear the ocean's great vastness and depth.
Watching the evolution of Disney Princesses is fascinating, and Moana is a sure step on the way to more greatness. From femininity, to feistiness – and now, on the heels of Tiana, Rapunzel and Elsa – complexity.
I'd go so far as to say that Moana is the most self-realized heroine of the Disney movies, one who fully and utterly owns her story. There's no love interest, no damselling, no last minute Trinity Syndrome rearing its ugly head – in fact, it's remarkably telling that no other princess in the line-up has ever had a song climaxing in a simple assertion of her own identity ("I am Moana!") or a Disney animated film which has as its explicit theme: "who are you?"
It's been a source of constant frustration for me that ever since The Princess and the Frog, Disney has given their princess movies rather boring single-word "adjective" titles. The Bear and the Bow was changed to Brave just before its release, Rapunzel subsequently became Tangled and The Snow Queen was never anything but Frozen; neatly removing any gender from the titles so as not to alienate young male viewers, even though the original titles were much better.
So going in, I was a little surprised that this movie was so singularly called Moana instead of some other evasive adjective (like Drenched or Soaked). But having seen it, it's obvious that there really wasn't any choice. The film itself is so utterly about the journey and growth of this girl, that they couldn't possibly have called it anything else.