Get Pumped For Moana, Disney’s First Pacific Islander Princess Introduced In The New Trailer

The trailer for Disney’s upcoming film — and its first princess movie since 2013’s Frozen — is finally available on YouTube. The trailer for Moana introduces Disney’s first Pacific Islander Princess, and it’s about damn time we got another princess of color. The sneak peak of the film has already been viewed well over 400,000 times, despite going live less than 24 hours ago, so people are obviously pumped.

Moana centers on the adventures of the titular Moana, the daughter of a chief, and the demigod Maui. Based on the trailer, it looks like most of those adventures will take place at sea, perhaps including navigation mishaps and hitting things with spears. It doesn’t exactly sound like a groundbreaking plot, except for one thing: Moana is Disney’s first-ever Pacific Islander princess, and the first princess of color in seven years. The last time Disney gave us a non-white princess was in 2009 with Tiana from The Princess and the Frog, and Tiana only became a princess because she got with a prince. The last real Disney princess or princess-equivalent of color was Pocahontas, in 1995. (Mulan doesn’t count, because while she was awesome, she wasn’t royalty.)

As someone from the Pacific Islands — specifically, Hawaii — I admit I was suspicious about how Moana would go, but the trailer has helped ease some of those worries. By setting the action in Oceania (the general term for the Pacific Islands as a whole), the movie avoids portraying a single specific culture in a hugely inaccurate way.

Maui may be a big talker, but he also gives off a vibe of genuine strength, which is really important mythology attributes the creation of the Hawaiian Islands (or the islands of whichever culture is telling the story) to him by pulling them out of the sea. He’s also believed to have brought the secret of fire to his people so they could survive, as told in the Israel Kamakawiwo’ole song “Hawaiian Superman.” He’s a hugely significant figure for many Pacific Islanders across cultures.

Thankfully, the trailer’s emphasis on his living tattoos pays tribute to his importance in Pacific Island myth and its roots in multiple cultures that traditionally prioritized oral and visual traditions over written ones. The aesthetic of the movie also seems to make an effort to draw on Pacific Island arts rather than aiming for some tiki bar BS (although there are some incongruous quasi-classical Greek visual elements in there as well, for some reason). 

I’m also very happy to see that Moana’s voice actress, Auli’i Cravalho, is actually of Native Hawaiian descent and is backed up by the half-Samoan Dwayne Johnson as the voice of Maui. Additionally, the Samoan-born/New Zealand-based Opetaia Foa’i joined co-composers Lin-Manuel Miranda and Mark Mancina to create the music for the movie.

You may notice that I’ve spent much more time talking about Maui than Moana — that’s because the trailer basically does the same thing. The majority of the trailer’s 88 seconds is spent on hyping Maui, while Moana only appears as a spectator and in quick clips at the very end of the trailer. It’s a weird tactic for a movie that’s, you know, called Moana.

Still, maybe I can give Disney the benefit of the doubt if future promotional material promises to spotlight Moana. The trailer’s focus on Maui might have been an attempt at Pacific Islands 101 for viewers unfamiliar with those cultures. Or it might have come out of a belief (probably not unfounded) that people will be more likely to see the movie if they hear a familiar voice in the trailer, namely that of Mr. The Rock Johnson. Either way, I wish we’d seen more of Moana herself; this could have been a great opportunity to find out more about her as a character.

Moana hits theaters in the U.S. November 23, and I’ll be watching. I may have my cultural critic goggles on, but I’ll be watching.