Adventure Is For All Kids: Where "Moana" Got It Right

Three weeks in, Disney’s latest animated offering, Moana, is still topping the box office.

This tale is colorful, entertaining, funny, and everything you want from family adventure. However, talk of political correctness, which has nothing to do with the movie, is getting in the way, once again. All over online “news” world, entertainment sites jumped on the comments by Moana writers Ron Clements and John Musker saying the “possibilities are open” to an LGBTQ2 princess.

Gay characters are everywhere, and so this "gay or straight" isn’t even the point. The point is every time a family movie is released, words like “diversity” or “representation” gets bandied about, as if everyone going to see the film is carrying a clipboard and checking off the different genders, races, sexual preferences, or religious affiliations of the characters. They aren't. What families look for, especially kids, is adventure! Even in current movies, this “seeking true love’” has been done to death.

With Moana, there was no “looking for romance” of any kind. It was a young girl, the daughter of a Polynesian chieftain, who is chosen by the ocean to retrieve the lost heart of an island goddess. She ends up meeting and getting a help (if you really want to call it that) by boisterous demigod Maui (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson). No looking for unnecessary love interests, just an amazing quest for a young heroine.

This is where Moana got it completely right. Letting a young character be just that, a kid. Moana is a teenager, and not yet in market for marriage or mating. Yes, I realize people got married very young in some cultures and historic eras, but when you look at 16-year-olds now (often the customary “time for the princess to get married” age in movies), they don’t know which end is up when it comes to matters of the heart…or hormones. As for the “12 and younger” crowd watching, they just want to see what quest is over that next horizon, what amazing (and often talking) critters they are going have as sidekicks, and which monsters and hazards they will have to best by brain or brawn. They don’t care what color the protagonist's skin is or who they’ll be hooking up with as adults. If there's a kid in it, they are happy.

My daughters’ favorite “superhero team” of late is Guardians of the Galaxy, not because of any “realistic” diversity of race or gender, but because there is a talking raccoon and lovable tree creature (who is about to get even more insanely adorable, from the looks of the latest teaser trailer).

Yes, we all loved the female leads, I even dressed as Gamora one Halloween. This wasn’t because they represented any one group (the under-served green or blue people demographic). It was because they were simply just interesting and exciting characters. They were part of the adventure.

Now, I’m not going to criticize Clements and Musker for their comments. All Hollywood writers are required by law to talk about diversity, it seems. However, I hope they realize the success of Moana had nothing to do with “meeting a quota.” It had to do with a fun story on which any kid would want to ride along.

Showing characters of diverse personalities, and backgrounds is wonderful, as long as the goal of “diversity” doesn’t overshadow what I like to call “organic storytelling.” If a company has to push and promote, a character based on their gender, race or sexual identity, rather than just letting them be a natural part of the story, then they’ve already ruined the film.

Trust me, kids know when they are being preached to, and getting hit over the head with an issue does nothing but distract. Give kids (and often teens) adventure, not a lecture on politics. Show them history and culture, don’t tell them what to think of it. Give them humor and heart, not a lesson in “acceptance.” If the character is likable, they will accept them.

Let these characters shine as individuals, not as a “representative” of any one group. Let them be who they are, not just “what” they are. Let them tell the story through their actions, not identity. There are plenty of “overcoming prejudice” movies out there for later.

Most of all, let kids, both on screen and in the audience, just be amazing kids for a while, like Moana.

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