Elsa and Moana are the princesses of our generation. At least at the box office, these two leading ladies rule the animated princess world. But in every measure, Moana is the far superior leading lady. Here are the five simple reasons why.
1 – Mission
You realize in Frozen that Elsa is the “hero” because she saves everyone from a catastrophe she created, right? In any other world, we’d call that crazy. If you make the mess, you clean it up, we tell our kids. But when Elsa sends the whole world into an icy chill …she deserves our acclaim for righting the situation? If my kid dumps his Legos on the floor, he’s not getting candy—let alone getting enshrined in greatness—for cleaning them up.
Moana’s mission could not be more different. As princess (OK, she’s a chief-to-be. But, for our purposes, she’s a princess), she inherits a real mess. Her island faces extinction because of the actions of a misguided demigod. Her mission to save her people is wrought with all sorts of challenges. It’s a mission only a noble, brave princess would pursue.
2 – Community
On this point, I credit Elsa for her relationship with Anna. No doubt, their sisterly affection is admirable. And, Olaf is great. But, as her theme song denotes (more on that in a second), Elsa is ultimately about herself. She was dealt a tough hand with the magical powers she inherited, but Elsa is about Elsa.
Moana, though, is a princess of the people. She recognizes how valuable her community is. “I’ll lead the way,” she sings. Rightly so. She’s heir to the throne, after all. But she doesn’t stop there. “I’ll have my people to guide me, we’ll build our future together.”
3 – Song
Read the lyrics of Let it Go. Here’s a snippet: “Let it go, let it go,” Elsa sings. “Turn away and slam the door. I don’t care what they’re going to say. Let the storm rage on. The cold never bothered me anyway.” This song won all the awards, but if we’re honest, it’s the ode of a cranky teenager who is done with the haters. Like Elsa, I do not want my daughter to find her identity in what other people say about her. But letting it go isn’t a realistic way to accomplish that.
Moana’s How Far I’ll Go is far more redemptive. “Everything is by design. I know everybody on this island has a role on this island. So maybe I can roll with mine. I can lead with pride, I can make us strong.” She understands her mission. She believes in her community. And she’s going to fight for justice. This is something I want my daughter to aspire toward.
4 – Body
Perhaps the point is overblown, but Disney has a long history of elevating unrealistic and crazy skinny princesses. Moana is strong. She’s healthy. She’s ready to adventure.
5 – Sacrifice
Finally, Moana understands great leaders stand willing to sacrifice everything on behalf of those they lead. Whether it’s Jesus, Dumbledore, Luke Skywalker, or Aslan, the beauty of the greatest heroes is their willingness to give up everything—even their own lives—for the sake of the mission. Elsa’s is a more complicated character. She sacrifices her pride to save her sister and the larger community, but her heroism pales in comparison to Moana’s willingness to face death on behalf of those entrusted to her leadership.