How 'Moana' Gets Female Protagonists Right Better Than Any Other Movie

The 2016 Disney film Moana puts in a lot of heavy lifting in order to run the subtext of feminism in its very fun adventure featuring a talented, intelligent, and headstrong female role model. Even though Disney created a slew of wonderful films in the 20th century, it fell into a storytelling miasma for a little while that made it seem like the production company that brought audiences The Lion King and The Little Mermaid was stuck in a princess loop. Moana takes everything you think you know about the structure of a Disney film and subverts it at every possible moment. From its lack of a romantic lead, to the counter rhythms that run through the film’s excellent songs. Disney’s Moana truly understands young female protagonists.

There aren’t any wasted moments in Moana, a film that feels like it was created simply to offer audiences a look at a world where the hero’s journey wasn’t defined by hulking men who brandish 50-pound swords. The best thing about Moana’s film full of strong females and the men who respect them is that you don’t have to be a young girl to enjoy it. Its messages of perseverance, taking life as it comes, and using your noggin can be applied to anyone, no matter what gender they identify as. Moana has set the bar for female protagonists in film; lets hope Disney’s following films rise to the challenge.

  • Moana Has No Problem Being the Chief of Her People

    Moana Has No Problem Being the Chief of Her People
    Photo: Disney

    The audience is told from the beginning of the film that Moana is next in line to be the Chief of her people, and she doesn't spend one moment wringing her hands about whether or not she deserves to be in charge. Perhaps more importantly, no one in her village is suspect of her abilities. It's almost as if they were raised without gender bias beaten into their brains.

  • She Teaches Herself How to Do Everything

    She Teaches Herself How to Do Everything
    Photo: Disney

    Moana doesn't do everything perfectly - she is a young person, after all - but in the face of adversity, rather than folding it up and going home or asking someone for help, Moana simply figures out her own way to get sh*t done. Sailing a boat? She's got it. Fighting a giant demi-god crab? Don't worry about it. Communicating with the spirits of her people to learn their past in order to decide what they should do with their future? She's got it taken care of, y'all!

  • Moana Disagrees with Her Family, But They All Respect Each Other

    Moana Disagrees with Her Family, But They All Respect Each Other
    Photo: Disney

    The main familial argument within Moana's family is whether or not their people should sail beyond the reef that acts as a barrier around their island. Even though she and her father completely disagree on this issue, there's no moment where you feel like they won't get over it. Even when her dad (who is very 'Disney Dad') freaks out because Moana attempts to raft out to sea early in the film, her mother shows her support for the youngling by packing her a sea dinner. It's an unspoken message: in spite of their differences, they're still family.

  • No One Ever Says "You're a Girl!"

    No One Ever Says "You're a Girl!"
    Photo: Disney

    Through the nearly two-hour run time of the film, there isn't a single moment where a character notes that Moana can't do something because she's a girl. In fact, the one character who views her gender as a hindrance, Maui, quickly learns how wrong he is. It's wonderful to see this subtext in a children's film. Regardless of your genetic makeup, you can still sail across the ocean to fight mythological beasts and save the world.

  • Moana Never Falls in Love

    Moana Never Falls in Love
    Photo: Disney

    This film is not about Moana falling in love with her co-star, the demi-god Maui. This simple narrative decision shows viewers of all ages that women don't have to stumble head over heels for every muscled hunk who uses a magical hook to turn into an eagle and assist her on her quest. Keeping Moana's friendship with Maui strictly platonic not only changes the way audiences view young women, but it's (sadly) a revolutionary way to view a female protagonist in a Disney film. 

  • Self-Discovery Comes Whether Moana Wants It or Not

    Self-Discovery Comes Whether Moana Wants It or Not
    Photo: Disney

    Synthesizing every piece of feminine symbolism in Moana is a fool's errand, but the overall narrative of the film essentially follows the main character's journey in becoming a grown-up - who, in this case, happens to be a woman. The story (Joseph Campbell's traditional 'Hero's Journey,' but in an alternate universe where we don't just think of men as heroes), thrusts Moana into the great unknown where she literally has to sink or swim. It's the same figurative journey that every young woman faces when she becomes a teenager. In the film, Moana immediately accepts this new way of life and begins to find out who she really is. You don't see this kind of acknowledgement of the female journey in many other major films, let alone an animated film produced by Disney.