1. Culture in the Forefront
Back in 2013, when we got our first listen at the opening song from Frozen, “Vuelie”, it made me all the more impatient for the film. It brought me back to the drums playing over the Disney logo at the beginning of Pocahontas that got me all giddy and excited watching it on VHS as a kid, and still gives me chills. The song, along with Kristoff’s costume design and this concept art from a much earlier stage in development (below) gave me the impression that it would be a film largely centered on Norwegian culture.
That’s one of the aspects that appealed to me the most before the movie came out. Disney films that explore regions outside of vaguely European-fairy-tale-
This here is how you get my attention even without music.
While there were hints at Norwegian culture present in Frozen, they were mostly shoved into the background to make room for a more – how do I say this without sounding too negative – typical fairy tale.
Now, considering the screenwriter for Moana is himself Maori, I’d predict that whatever facets of Polynesian culture they portray are going to be fairly accurate, if a tad simplified. While I certainly don’t need the whole movie to be particularly educational, I’d love to see Disney show a better exploration of the setting, akin to The Princess and the Frog’s treatment of New Orleans.
2. Alan Menken’s Return to Form
I have sort of an unpopular opinion regarding the soundtrack to Tangled. The movie itself was excellent, and I enjoy hearing the songs and score, but let’s be honest: it was no Hunchback of Notre Dame. The style of the songs was inconsistent and a lot of the lyrics were pretty weak. To put it simply, I don’t think Glenn Slater was the right choice as the film’s lyricist. Menken’s work was much stronger when he was paired with the late Howard Ashman or Stephen Schwartz. On the other hand, I thoroughly enjoyed his collaboration with Slater in the Broadway adaptation of The Little Mermaid (whether or not it was such a great show I can’t vouch for).
But we still don’t know if it’ll be him. With all the news about the previews at Cannes, I’d have thought we’d know for sure who was writing the music and lyrics, especially after reading about the opening number. Of course, I haven’t heard the song, but after seeing it compared to both “The Circle of Life” and “Great Spirits”, my hopes could easily skyrocket with the next tiny bit of information we get and it’ll be like the days of the Frozen pre-movie fandom. Good times.
What I’ve come to expect here is basically the polar opposite of Tangled: less generic, showcasing the specific culture (see above); more similar to Pocahontas.
3. A More Standard Body Type
Not that absolutely every Disney heroine has issues with this, of course:
…But, if you ask me, that’s just another reason to expect more movies to follow. Yes, there are a lot of women whose bodies are more similar to Belle or Anna’s, but the vast majority of female-led Disney animated films seem to be led almost exclusively by thin women. It doesn’t make them bad characters, of course, but neither does most of them being white, which is yet another issue Disney doesn’t have a flawless track record with. There’ve been some amazing fan concepts of Moana with a stockier build, which I for one wouldn’t mind seeing either. Unfortunately, though, based on Disney’s recent history (and her slender build in the concept art), I’m not sure that’s as likely as her waistline being closer to Gogo’s. So for now all I want is for her not to be exaggeratedly skinny.
4. A New Name in the Credits
When I first heard the rumor that Fifth Harmony’s Dinah Jane Hansen may be cast as Moana, I was admittedly a little disappointed. She’s extremely talented and does have Polynesian heritage, so that’d be a plus, but I was excited to hear about the open casting call several months ago, and this news just made me think: “What was the point of that, then?” I thought it was refreshing that they weren’t going with an A-lister (and I’m counting people predominantly famous in the Broadway community, not just Hollywood) and instead seemed to be going the Hairspray route of plucking the leading lady from obscurity.
Granted, they don’t tend to pick their voice actors straight from the Billboard charts. I love Taylor Swift as much as anyone, but when I saw The Lorax, I kept thinking to myself, “That’s a pop star behind a microphone,” and never, “That’s a character I’m totally invested in.”
Although Zac Efron’s voice coming out of this shrimp didn’t make the film immersive either.
5. A Lack of Love Interest.
It’s no deal breaker; having a love interest wouldn’t make Moana a weaker character. Most of my favorite animated heroines have them:
However, a large part of the appeal to movies like Brave and Frozen was that they focused mainly on platonic love. That’s what made them stand out, not just the “not-your-average-princess” angle, which, ironically, became the average around twenty years ago.
I’ll be the first to admit that I’m a sucker for love stories, but it’d be more interesting to see the new princess develop a strong friendship with her male companion, and that appears to be the case with her and Maui, given that she’s a teenager and he’s a possibly immortal demigod. It’s something Disney fairy tales haven’t delved into before, at least not often. Sure, their past princesses have been friends with male sidekicks (e.g. Flounder, Ray, Pascal), but it was never the most prominent relationship in the movie. Keeping Moana single would also make room for an even better adventure story, not to mention allow for more LGBT+ headcanons (although, if you think about it, any of the other princesses could easily be bi, pan, etc.).
Luckily for us, the crew seems to be on the right track, and it looks like Moana could kick the Disney Revival up a notch. As always, I await November 23, 2016 with bated breath.
** This is a user-submitted post by Mary McKeon. **