Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Moana: Don't Call her "Princess"!

While Disney's new strong heroine Moana isn't based on a fairy tale, there are a multitude of folklore connections and tie-ins, and, despite the "don't call her Princess" promotional catch phrases being quoted around the web, you shouldn't be too surprised if this story is added to Disney's "fairy tale realm", albeit an island version, in the months following the film's release.

Moana, the title character of the upcoming animated adventure, definitely sounds like a classic Disney princess. She’s an adventurous, compassionate, and beautiful young woman who sings, talks to animals, and even has a royal pedigree as the daughter of a Polynesian chief.        
But you won’t hear the creative minds behind Moana give their lead character that distinction. “We don’t describe her as a princess,” producer Osnat Shurer told Yahoo Movies at an early press day at the studio’s Burbank offices in August. “We don’t think of her as a princess. We just think of her as one of our strongest lead characters.”
If you haven't seen much in the way of trailers, take a look at this compilation one that was released just last week.

Although it's a little long, the bonus here is the included Japanese trailer which teases an entire scene of Moana as a baby, playing with (yes, "with", not "in") the Ocean:
Although Moana is clearly - at her debut - supposed to be set apart from fairy tale princesses and have strong ties to folklore and myth (as opposed to that time and space of Once Upon A Time), the unfortunate reality is that there is no "folklore/myth" niche in Disney marketing, so she - and all he surrounding magic and lore - will likely end up in the Disney fairy tale mix. (To be clear, we are not advocating this, just looking at patterns and projecting what will happen down the marketing road...) We're not the only people watching and waiting to see how this folklorific film (think terrific and folklore mashed together) pans out in terms of marketing and the eventual "image" Moana settles into either.

From Yahoo:
Foreign title & poster - so beautiful!
...Given what a lucrative business the stable of Disney princesses has been for the company — just ask any parent who has ever waited in line to take photos with Cinderella, Aurora, or Belle — it’s somewhat surprising to hear Moana‘s filmmakers distance themselves from the tradition. 
But we’re also clearly in the middle of a cultural shift on gender depictions in film. In recent years we’ve seen Snow White reimagined as a live-action warrior (Snow White and the Huntsman), Jane Austen’s Bennett sisters battle the undead (Pride and Prejudice and Zombies), and the Ghostbusters get a gender flip. And soon, we’ll finally have female-led comic-book movies with Wonder Woman (2017) and Captain Marvel (2019). 
... Perhaps most telling is a scene filmmakers mentioned in Moana that confronts the notion of her identity head-on. Musker and Clements described a moment in which Maui, a physically imposing but playful mentor to Moana, is teasing her. “He says, ‘Hey, princess,’ derogatorily,” Musker said. “And there’s a line where she says, ‘I am not a princess!’”
Back to legend and folklore.

The demi-god Maui is the most obvious connection to Polynesian myth and legend but the question is which one? Here's a summary:
The teaser trailer introduces us to the demi-god Maui and his impressive achievements. If you're Hawaiian and confused because you can't recognize them all, it's because he was actually created using multiple versions of the myth known in the Pacific: Maui can be found in the mythology of several islands such as Hawaii, Tonga, Samoa, Tahiti, French Polynesia and New Zealand. And if there's one attribute that he keeps in all these different cultures, it's that he's pretty much iconic.
What we're most interested in, however, is the Ocean, which has it's own personality and connection with Moana, and how that is treated with regard to folklore, superstition and the many legends of the Pacific. There hasn't been much speculation about the Ocean as yet, though its scene with baby Moana is an instant hit with audiences everywhere, but this is the role usually reserved for sidekick animals, benevolent fairies (especially those akin to the Blue Fairy in Pinocchio) or enchanted objects. Having such a huge part of nature, that is, the ocean, have a very intimate connection to the main character provides a different story telling platform and we're curious to see how it's handled.

We're also curious bout the "Lava Witch" (seen looking very impressive in the first artwork promos last year, though not present - we think - in the current trailer, unless she has transformed to something very skinny and less crone-like). Unlike Mother Nature stories or vengeful gods tales, this "character" of the Ocean appears to be something else, something more like a character you would very much meet in a fairy tale (especially if written by Hans Christian Andersen), while the Lava Witch seems like a cross between Pacific Island deities and Norwegian folklore. We know there will be more folkloric and mythic references in the film, so despite this not being "fairy tale" it's still a great opportunity to talk classic tales and how they overlap with our beloved realm of "fairy".

Fairy Tale Bonus of the Day:
Curious about Moana's origins and geographical roots? There's an interesting article that came out at the end of last year, when Moana was still being introduced to the public as Disney's next strong female heroine. It's gets a little technical in the geography versus the language and doesn't cite myth, legend or folklore much so we're not excerpting any here, but it's a fascinating read nonetheless. Go dig into Moana's history HERE at The True Origins of Disney's Moana.

Fairy Tale Bonus 2 of the Day:

A Little Bit About Moana’s Mini Maui
Maui’s body is covered in tattoos and, being a powerful demigod, they’re a bit more animated than your traditional body art. There’s even a tattoo of Maui himself who becomes an actual character in and of himself.

“Most of these tattoos represent his past accomplishments,” says Mack Kablan, Animator Supervisor on Maui. “His deeds of derring-do. And within these visualizations there’s a small figure representing Maui himself, and over the course of creating the story we started to refer to him as ‘Mini Maui’ because he became a character in his own right. He actually has a personality and a relationship with big Maui. He is, first of all, Maui’s biggest cheerleader and supporter. He is Maui’s alter ego, he can be swaggy and confident too, but more than anything else, he’s his conscience.”
The best part about Mini Maui? He’s being animated in traditional, HAND-DRAWN style by the wonderfully silly Eric Goldberg – animator of Aladdin’s Genie! (source)

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