The Many Mixed Responses to Disney's New Film Moana

The Many Mixed Responses to Disney's New Film Moana

Disney's latest heroine is the first Pacific islander to join the ranks of the Disney princesses

Disney's latest heroine is the first Pacific islander to join the ranks of the Disney princesses

Text: Jillian Selzer

A new TV spot for Disney Animation's latest film Moana was released last night during the Olympics, and the movie is already making history. The movie is breaking ground for Hollywood diversity by heavily representing and incorporating Polynesian culture into the story, a first in the franchise's repertoire. Moana tells the story of demi-god Maui, and young islander Moana as she seeks to learn more about her heritage and save her family.

The character of Moana is voiced by industry newcomer and native Hawaiin Auli'i Cravalho. The score includes music from Samoan songwriter Opetaia Foa'i, and the plot heavily focuses on Polynesian mythology–all of which cast a wide net on Pacific islander culture. But while the film is hitting new heights in more ways than one, movie-goers are responding with mixed reviews. Certain people appreciate the islander representation while others are critical of the heavy focus on demi-god Maui rather than Moana. Broadway fans are just in it for Lin Manuel-Miranda's contributions, while some people are angry on the body standards and shapes of the characters. It seems to be a mixed bag all around, with social media commenters leaving no stone unturned when it comes to picking apart the movie.

An article in The Guardian discusses the possibly misinterpreted body standard of Polynesian god Maui, noting the public outrage over an "obese" Polynesian man creating a negative stereotype for men of the same heritage, despite the Pacific Islands ranking ninth in The World Health Organization's list of most obese nations. One Facebook comment, shown below, criticizes the contradictory shape of Maui in comparison to the traditional description in storytelling.

Not even the teaser trailers are safe from comment. Of the two trailers that have been released, each is being criticized for focusing on Maui more than the titular character Moana.

Some are just in it for Hamilton composer Lin Manuel-Miranda (which is just one of the many perks of the movie).

But for every negative or critical comment, there are just as many positive responses. Let's not forget that Moana is the first Pacific Islander to take on the prestigious role of a Disney Princess. While Disney has often been criticized in years past for featuring predominantly caucasian characters, Moana represents a diverse and growing population with movie-goers rejoicing over their culture's inclusion.

Despite the mixed reactions, Disney has taken more steps in diversity in the past years. While the movie industry itself certainly isn't perfect, Moana is a milestone for cultural inclusion. Whatever your stance on the movie, it's already made history. The film hits theaters November 28.

Credits: Photo Courtesy of Disney Animation Studios


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