(WARNING: The following contains mild thematic SPOILERS for Disney's newly released Moana, as well as some gentle discussion of the movie's broader narrative. Proceed with whatever level of caution that suggests to you is wise.)
Now, there are a whole lot of reasons to love #Disney's latest animated extravaganza, #Moana. For one thing, it's arguably the most technically beautiful movie that the studio has ever put out, with countless visual touches that would have made ol' Walt's eyes leap out of his head. It's also, of course, funny, touching, engaging, and all of those assorted things that you would reasonably expect any major Disney release to be. Which is, y'know, nice and all, but not all that surprising in the greater scheme of things.
As it turns out, though...
There's One Big Reason That Moana Matters More Than You Think
And, in a somewhat surprising turn of events for a company once famous for making its female leads as dishwater dull and agency-less as possible, it's Moana herself.
Y'see, countless Disney movies over the years — and, indeed, pretty much every major blockbuster released over the past century or so — have actively undermined their female leads, stripping them of control over their own stories, and making them subject to the plot arcs of the men around them. Similarly, when looking back through Disney's back catalog, you're likely to struggle to find many #DisneyPrincess movies in which the central narrative isn't defined by the female lead falling in love with a noble hero, and thus being "saved" from her otherwise uninteresting life.
And here's the thing: Moana isn't a love story. And it isn't a story about a young woman having her tale defined by the men around her. In fact, it's pretty much the exact opposite of that:
Moana Is A Story About Youth, And Freedom, And Duty...But Not About Love
Now, I'm not going to dwell too long on the individual plot elements of Moana that make it all about the above themes — since to do so would involve major spoilers for the film's latter half — but it's worth noting that the film makes it very clear from early on in its running time that it isn't interested in romance, or in having a male character "save" its lead. Instead, it's a tale of a young woman torn between her desire to be an effective leader to her people, and her even greater desire to seek out something more beyond the limitations of her small island home. Essentially, it's a story about a young woman who's really, really good at her job, but who would rather go out exploring the world in order to save it, thank you very much.
Rather than having her narrative dictated to her by the men around her, then, Moana makes her own story, and defines its limitations for herself. In other words?
Moana Is A Genuinely Feminist Disney Movie
Now, sure, #Frozen was great, and all, and many of the latter-day Disney animations like #ThePrincessAndTheFrog and #Tangled are far from sexist, but they're still pretty much all — with the exception of this year's #Zootopia — very much defined by a conventionally male-female romance at their core, and imply that said romance "saves" the female lead from her otherwise dull life. Even Frozen, in which the male lead utterly fails to save the day, and the other apparent "male savior" turns out to be a complete tool, still rigidly clings to the idea that one of its female leads can only truly be happy if she finds a guy to love her.
Moana, by contrast, positions its lead as someone whose happiness isn't defined by any one thing at all — with both familial loyalty, a work-life balance and a sense of adventure and horizon-expanding all coming into play — and certainly not by romance.
What's important to bear in mind there, of course, is that by doing so it's not making an outrageous statement or trying to bring politics into an animated movie about finding yourself. Instead, it's simply positioning its female lead as being equally competent, equally complex and equally independently motivated as any male character in the film — something that can't be said about a shockingly large number of big-budget movies, even in 2016. It's not a film about equality, per se, but since Moana makes clear that she very much is the equal of any other character she comes into contact with — whether they initially accept that or not — it remains a fundamentally equal movie.
Which, whether you have an irrational hatred of the word or not, makes it a feminist movie. Which in turn plays a major role in making it even more awesome, and ensuring that it genuinely matters.
Plus, the songs are incredibly catchy, which is nice.
Still want more on Moana, though? Never fear, we've got you covered right here.
In the meantime, what do you think? What do you think makes Moana great? Let us know below!