A small crack etched itself onto my heart when I heard that another touchstone from childhood, Carrie Fisher, had died.
In her portrayal of Princess Leia, Fisher embodied strength, humor, an independent spirit, and grace in the face of adversity. She confronted the terrifying mouth-breather, Darth Vader, commanded the Rebel army, inspired her soldiers and subjects, and never lost her ability to love or dish out some sarcasm.
Han Solo was a lovable cad, and Luke Skywalker brought earnestness and nobility to the struggle over his inner demons. Leia never wavered in her devotion to goodness and managed just fine without those boys, although she seemed to enjoy the galaxy more when they were around. With her gutsiness, beauty, and loyalty, Princess Leia (and Carrie Fisher) brought the best parts of “chutzpah” (Yiddish for “nerve” or “cheekiness”) to outer space.
This Christmas, in a movie theater not so far, far away, I watched another princess demonstrate resourcefulness, kindness to animals, bravery, and desire to learn new skills. This newest Disney princess’ name was Moana, and she, too, was beautiful and smart. By the end of the movie, Moana had even managed to bring fertility and a new age of exploration back to the Pacific Islands.
This princess could sing, sail, swim, dance, dive, climb, and restore self-esteem and a conscience to a shape-shifting demigod. Like most Disney princesses before her, Moana defied her overprotective father in order to fulfill her destiny. Like many Disney children on television, this princess was also a bit of a mouthy brat.
As an adult who went through a short period of my childhood insisting that my family refer to me as Aurora from “Sleeping Beauty,” I wanted to love Princess Moana. In spite of my later rejection of Cinderella, Snow White, and Sleeping Beauty’s reliance on princes to escape from abusive surroundings or comatose conditions, I still have a soft spot for these elegant monarchs. Looking closely at our family’s photo albums, you might even find a picture or two of me as an adult smiling bashfully next to a fully decked-out princess at Disneyworld.
I bought our family’s tickets to “Moana” with more than an open mind. Touching the heart, this visually gorgeous movie features a free-spirited grandmother and the not-so-subtle messages that we should love the earth and cooperate to make the world a better place. There was something about Moana’s personality, though, that smacked of entitlement and disrespect.
It might have been the way she approaches Maui and tries to boss him around that just didn’t seem so funny to this 50-year-old mom. When she asks him for help in her important mission to revive vegetation on her island, she mocks him for his vanity and never seems truly grateful for his assistance. Yes, Maui may have brought on an unpleasant curse a thousand years ago, but it doesn’t mean that Moana had to be so bratty.
I’m not suggesting that Moana should have tried to charm Maui or feign helplessness in order to enlist his aid. Confidence is a wonderful trait in both people and Disney princesses, but Moana’s self-assurance borders on smug arrogance. Watching Moana in action was like watching those eye-rolling know-it-all kids on “iCarly” or other television programs for children. Clearly the kids are all much wiser and more competent than every bumbling adult around them.
The world moves forward and progresses because new generations are able to stand on the shoulders of their predecessors. Young people also have the opportunity to reject the biases and mistakes of previous generations. Princess Leia was able to hold on to her regal dignity while acting like a hero and forging her own path. Moana’s attitude had a rude piquancy for most of her odyssey. Until her charm matches her amazing feats of sailing and bravery, Moana will remain the daughter of a chief to me. Leia, you are forever a princess. Rest in peace.