(WARNING: This post contains spoilers for Moana. Proceed with caution, wayfinder)
When Moana (Auli'i Cravalho) first meets Demigod Maui (Dwayne Johnson), she claims she is not a princess, but rather the daughter of the chieftain in her tribe. Maui replies that there is no difference. Maui may be right, but what #Moana does in the movie clearly distinguishes between the two, redefining Moana as a character of a whole new standard.
Rather than have the plot show Moana wiggle her way through obstacles, Moana fights her way through the story with pure badassness. She is not like Cinderella or Sleeping Beauty, waiting for something to happen. Moana is more like Rey from The Force Awakens — a strong female lead we can all look up to as a role model. So, what makes Moana such a strong character?
Moana Is Brave And Independent
Moana is one brave girl. From the opening sequence (which highlights her fearlessness) to seeing her riding the waves of the ocean with her self-taught skills, Moana knows her limits, and is reminded of it by her father. However, she is fully determined to fight against it. She isn't stubborn, rather, she's confident that she can do more. That's why she calls herself wayfinder.
Since Maui was a jerk by stealing the Heart of Te Fiti and setting off a trail of unfortunate decay of natural resources, Moana's village becomes desperate. Now, Moana is forced to sail the ocean in search for Maui. Together, they must face the Lava Monster and return the heart Maui had stolen. The most interesting thing about Moana is that, with only little guidance from ocean, we see Moana travel on her own to find Maui. She definitely held her own against his trickery.
Another strong moment was when Maui traps Moana inside his prison cave on the island he was stranded on. She managed to escape the cave with no help. It's a scene where we'd expect Maui to have a conscience and go back to let her out. The screenplay made the scene less predictable, while strengthening the characters. So, Maui selfishly leaves, while Moana bravely escapes the cave like a circus performer. It's like that scene from the first X-Men movie, where Wolverine leaves Rogue on the cold road, but then his conscience lets her back onto his truck. In Moana's case, her strength and determination got her out of the mess. She got out of a predicament on her own, while Rogue just got lucky.
Moana Fights Plot Devices
The screenplay trusted Moana to strengthen her vulnerability, which helped shift the plot more believably. Rather than have the plot drive the character to do things they have never done before, Moana embraces what she lacks in skill and wants to improve. As Moana and Maui become acquainted, she demands to learn how to be a proper wayfinder. Moana improved her skills, and therefore, drove her own story.
There are plenty of movies out there where plot magically gives a character a special skill to overcome an obstacle. The screenplay allows Moana to be in control over her story. There is no ex-machina to save the situation; Moana does it all on her own. Her vulnerability leads to her strength, and her strength drives the story in a plausible way. We believe Moana can sail because she learns how to. We believe that she has a plan because we have seen how brave she is. We believe the plot moves forward because Moana has the proper knowledge to help it do so.
Moana Doesn't Need A Love Interest
Moana is independent. She doesn't need a prince to help her. Just like Rey from Star Wars, Moana has a set of goals to accomplish before anything else is important. Along the way, friends are made and skills are learned to prepare for what is to come.
Just like Fury Road's Imperator Furiosa, Moana fights the Kakamora in a Mad Max-style action sequence and comes out on top. Her fighting skills are top notch, and they resemble the swashbuckling assassin Edward Kenway from Assassins Creed (except less violent).
Moana is a happy girl. She isn't one to dwell on how lonely she is, or to wait for the day a precious boy will come and sweep her off her feet — no. Moana already has love, and it's love for her people, especially her family. Her focus is on the safety of her people. She carries the weight of the drama on her own, all while entertaining us with beautiful music.
Moana joins the ranks of strong female badasses in film, standing alongside Rey, Merida from Brave, Mulan, and possibly Jyn Erso from Rogue One. The credit goes to screenwriter Jared Bush and story developers Ron Clements, John Musker, Chris Williams, Don Hall, Pamela Ribon, Aaron Kandell, and Jordan Kandell. That creative team has set the bar high when it comes to characters to look up to as role models. Moana was a fantastic film, with great performances by Auli'i Cravalho and Dwayne Johnson, and it featured some of the best music in a #Disney movie, thanks to #Hamilton's #LinManuelMiranda.
Did you know how much of Moana is rooted in real legend? Check out the video below to learn more:
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What did you love most about Moana's character?