Thinking About Moana and Other Stories Disney Could Tell...

I've been thinking a great deal about the Daily Dot article I read yesterday about the fan anticipation for Walt Disney Animation Studio's animated film in development Moana tentatively slated for 2018.  I'm one of the fans who cannot wait for this film.

I was especially touched by the quote at the end from a teenage girl's tumbr blog:
“as a person of polynesian descent, i got extremely excited when disney’s moana was announced and didn’t really know why and then i realised THIS is what representation feels like.”
I know how she feels.  All my life, I've always looked for Asian American and Pacific Islander images in the media.  I grew up in a post-Vietnam War America where Asian Americans tended to be either the enemy or the joke.  And, even to this day, I still find a hard time finding the images.  And, even when I do, remember the diaspora among Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders is HUGE.  So, as, specifically, a Filipino American, I rarely find images of myself.

Moana, however, will be the Asian American/Pacific Islander Princess for Disney (although, they try to include Mulan, if you actually watch the film, she's not a princess).  But, what's interesting is that, when I look at Disney/Pixar animated films, of the racial groups, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders have been represented more than the others.  We've had Mulan (Chinese), Lilo, Nani and David (Hawaiian descent), Russell (voiced by a Japanese American and based on a Korean American) and, while I loathe to include him because he's basically a white kid with brown skin, for the sake of argument, Mowgli (South Asian).  Yet, compared to the giant history of Disney characters and films, I long for more.

While nothing official has been released by Walt Disney Animation Studios, Bleeding Cool has described the film as such:
"The lead character, Moana Waialiki is the only daughter of a Chief in a long line of navigators. She’s really a bit of nerd, but a nerd about sea voyaging, and when her family need her help, she sets off on an epic journey. Some of the other characters are demi-gods and spirits drawn from real mythology."
I'm very excited about this story, but, at the same time, I'm curious why Disney doesn't choose from the vast library of folklore, folktales and mythology that comes out of Asia and the Pacific Islands.  Disney has always been connected with fairytales which, before writers such as the Grimm Brothers, Hans Christian Andersen and Charles Perrault committed them to paper, were folktales handed down from generation to generation.

My Mom used to tell me the story of Maria Makiling, a diwata (or fairy or spirit) from Mt. Makiling in the Philippines.  While the story would need to be changed a little, I always thought this story of her falling in love with a human from a village below could be an interesting subject.  That's just one story from Filipino culture. 

Like I said, there are so many throughout Asia and the Pacific Islands.  There is one fairytale from Japan that is one of my favorites that I've always wanted to see Disney develop.  It's the tale of Urashima Taro, a fisherman who is drawn to the underwater kingdom of the Sea King and who falls in love with one of his daughters.  I can only imagine beautiful imagery.

One could argue that Asian narratives are different than Western narratives, but Disney is known from adapting their stories rather than straight translations.  One case in point is Frozen which is loosely based on Hans Christian Andersen's story "The Snow Queen."  The story is as far from the original as one could almost get.  But, that's not the only one that's been changed.  Almost every Princess story is different than the written version.  But, that's the thing about fairytales is that they are based on stories that have been molded and changed through the ages.

Anyway, again, I'm very excited about the development of Moana, but the Daily Dot article really got me thinking about other stories from other cultures outside of Europe that I'd love to see developed.  If you could pick a story outside of Europe, what would you pick?


  1. I want to see a filipino story. I feel relieved to be able to relate to some of the princesses' personalities, regardless of culture. But, it would be beyond cool to see my culture reflected on the Disney screen. Then we could voice them! I auditioned for Moana, but realize I may not be what they are looking for. But with a filipino story, it could happen!


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