IF YOU NEED hope for the next generation, look no further than Disney’s latest. Somewhere on a South Pacific island where natural elements have literal spirits, Moana (voiced by Auli’i Cravalho) is the teenage daughter of the chief. She can be characterized as a Polynesian “princess” only because she wears a dress and has two animal sidekicks—an adorable piglet and a mostly braindead rooster. It’s immediately clear her destiny is to be a leader: With her island’s wildlife dying, and thanks to some nudging from the “village crazy lady,” Moana discovers her people have abandoned their purpose as the greatest voyagers in the world. Teaming up with demigod Maui (Dwayne Johnson), Moana travels the now-treacherous waters—and when Maui shows he’s ultimately unreliable, she has to learn to trust her own voice.
I’d be lying if I said I didn’t get misty during Moana, in large part thanks to the music, by Opetaia Foa’i, Mark Mancia, and Hamilton’s Lin-Manuel Miranda. And unlike virtually every other Disney film with a female lead, it’s refreshing that Moana is saddled with no romantic agenda: I warily watched for signs of love between Maui and Moana until the very end, but after struggling to work together the entire movie, the two eventually develop a friendly camaraderie. Instead, the movie’s most important relationship is between Moana, her wise grandmother, and the spirits of nature. In other words? Moana provides a great message for little girls (and grown ones) in a time when their feminine power and the sanctity of the environment are under threat.