The more I learn about Moana, the more I like it.
I'm about to say a few things that I just learned about the film and the backstory that I like, which aren't *too* spoilery, but if you're really spoiler averse, you might want to not read the rest of the post. It's mostly about the background behind the movie and not so much about movie plot points.
First of all, I just learned that the production team recruited "experts from across the South Pacific to form an Oceanic Story Trust, who consulted on the film's cultural accuracy and sensitivity as the story evolved through nine versions." Seriously, more movies need to do something like this.
Next, I learned that one of those early versions had Moana as the only girl in a family of sons and her character arc was gender-based. Now, I'm usually all in for a good examination of how gender roles are expressed and inhibit characters, but something I've been really into lately is just having characters be fully fleshed characters that get into situations and who might happen to be not straight white males. MRA defenses of mostly white straight male protagonists include the justification that the story isn't *about* being a white male, so girls and POC should have no problem getting into the story because it could apply to "anyone". 1) Totally not true on pretty much every level of that assertion; 2) if they really could apply to "anyone", then it shouldn't matter if the character *is* "anyone", including non-male, non-straight, or non-white; and 3) yeah, having "white male" be the default setting where making a character not "white male" is a deliberate choice IS PART OF THE PROBLEM.
So, I really liked the fact that the story of Moana is not about her being "a girl". She wasn't prohibited from her dreams by her father "because she's a girl", she wasn't being forced into her traditional role "because she's a girl", and her story wasn't about either overcoming her gender or teaching anyone else to overcome gender roles. Her story was just an adventure story. That happened to happen to "a girl". The story could have been anyone. And I absolutely loved that she didn't have to "be a girl" and yet, she was one.
Next, I learned that the scene with Moana, Maui, and the ... well, I'll just say the "pirates" ... was a *deliberate homage to Mad Max: Fury Road*! Take that you fucking MRAs! Even Disney sees the financial incentive and storytelling value of Furiosa. Even "chick flicks" are fucking badass feminist action movies now. Because, here's a newsflash (and to blatantly steal from some other post I don't have the link to), women actually like action movies but particularly when the main character isn't a sexualized woman. Just tell our stories and we'll come see them. It's not that we don't like action films, it's that it's fucking lazy storytelling when the only women in the film are there to fulfill the (perceived) male audience members' wet dreams and we're *bored* and uninterested in lazy storytelling like that. The action isn't actiony enough to make up for the fact that your few women are cardboard flat and BORING.
There are legitimate criticisms about the film with respect to cultural sensitivity, and I was concerned about that happening when I first heard of it coming out and again when I saw it, but not being familiar with the communities of the people in the South Pacific (other than to know that there is no great controversy or ownership battle over who gets to use the term "poly" online and I refuse to White Knight them by making it into A Thing on their behalf), I was not able to anticipate or later to pick out what those criticisms might be.
So, as someone who is not disinfranchised by whatever gaffs the movie makes, the more I see, read, listen, and think about this movie, the more I want to include it in my top Disney favorites alongside Brave (my #1 favorite for the tomboy struggle), Maleficent (#3 for the lack of romantic love driving force and the nuanced look at a villain without ignoring her flaws) and Frozen (#4 for the lack of a husband and romance plot).
If I didn't list your favorite Disney princess movie, chances are it's because I either didn't like it or because I haven't seen it, so you don't have to ask me "have you seen...?" to find out why it's not listed.