Midway through, disgraced demigod Maui calls spunky quest-taker Moana a princess. She objects by noting that she’s actually a chief’s daughter, but he’ll have none of it: “You’re wearing a skirt, and you’ve got an animal sidekick — you’re a princess.” At another point, he warns her that if she breaks into song, he’ll throw up. This is Disney’s way of having its formulaic cake and eating it, too: “We know what we’re doing here, and we know that you know it, too. So please stop fretting and enjoy while the pieces fall into place.” Many of those pieces are deeply familiar for Disney fans, if not necessarily for Disney princesses : the musical introduction to the sheltered world of home, set against the sung longing for adventure (Beauty and the Beast), the rigid dad and campily evil undersea bad guy (The Little Mermaid), the unwelcome responsibility of rule (The Lion King), the jocular, magical assistant with dreams of his own (Aladdin)…heck, even the glorious finish is borrowed from Fantasia 2000. But more will be made, no doubt, of the familiar piece that never appears — the love interest — and the fact that no one at home bats an eye over the prospect of their first woman chief. Because in the absence of memorable songs, a great villain (demon coconuts?), story variation, happily-ever-after romance, or a character arc that extends beyond fully accepting your status as the chosen one, such things become what’s left for the heart to hold on to. John Musker and Ron Clements direct. (2016) — Matthew Lickona
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