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Let’s Rep Disney Repping Diversity in Moana, Coco and Gigantic

The Rock isn't the only one cooking up something new.

 

ANAHEIM, CA - AUGUST 14:  XXX of FILM TITLE took part today in "Pixar and Walt Disney Animation Studios: The Upcoming Films" presentation at Disney's D23 EXPO 2015 in Anaheim, Calif.  (Photo by Jesse Grant/Getty Images for Disney)

There’s been a lot of big news coming out of D23 Expo this weekend, including all these Star Wars announcements (new images and posters and directors!) and Marvel footage,. But perhaps the most exciting of all is the number of diverse animated properties Disney has on the go.

First of all, there is Moana, which may have been previously hyped up as a new vehicle for The Rock, but is, honestly, much more than that. Just look at the description for the film released during D23 and shared by SlashFilm

Moana introduces a spirited teenager who sails out on a daring mission to fulfill her ancestors’ unfinished quest. She meets the once-mighty demi-god Maui (voice of Dwayne Johnson), and together, they traverse the open ocean on an action-packed voyage.

Moana is not only set in and about South Pacific, but from the sounds of it, it should, if all goes well, pay apt tribute to the cultural traditions created and upheld there. As one of the film’s directors Ron Clements (previously of The Princess and the Frog and Aladdin) explained at D23, the development team did deep research into South Pacific cultures by visiting the area (“The wonderful people we met there, their rich history and traditions, and their fantastic music changed us forever”) and also consulting local experts. Also, they enlisted some relevant artists to help create music for the film, including Opetai Foa’i of group Te Vaka, who is working alongside Tony winner Lin-Manuel Miranda (Broadway’s In the Heights) and Grammy winner Mark Mancina (The Lion King) on the soundtrack.

Of course, Moana will not be without typical Disney tropes (apparently there was a joke about how the title character is motivated by the death of a family member at D23), but it’s a step in a new direction that clearly Disney is interested in exploring. Not only do they seem to have infinite faith in Moana and its effort to tell a new (to some audiences, anyway) cultural tale (they actually moved the release date of this film up from 2018 to 2016 because they think it’s so strong!), but they are also supporting a few other films with plots featuring diverse characters and their respective cultures.

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A new film that Disney announced at D23 is Coco, a film expressly about Mexican culture, particularly the celebrations of Dia de los Muertos. On the one hand, you could argue that director Lee Unkrich and producer Darla K. Anderson are coming at this film from a superficial place, especially judging by Unkrich’s comments that “as artists and filmmakers, [they] couldn’t help but be drawn to the striking visuals of Dia de los Muertos.” But at the same time, when you hear about the plot of the film (a young boy wants to have a family reunion featuring both the living and the dead), it sounds like it might be coming from a more genuine place, where honouring history and creating a great story are equal weight. I particularly like Unkrich’s further explanation for the Dia de los Muertos setting:

The celebration of Dia de los Muertos serves as the perfect backdrop for our main character to ask where he comes from, what his place is within his family, and how families stay woven together across time through the simple act of remembrance.

Again with the lost families members, huh? Guess no matter how much things change at Disney, some things never really change at all. But at least we’re getting somewhere, right? We can feel positive about that? We can see some growth?

GIGANTIC – DOWN TO EARTH — Adventure-seeker Jack discovers a world of giants hidden within the clouds, hatching a grand plan with a 60-foot-tall, 11-year-old girl. Directed by Nathan Greno ("Tangled") and produced by Dorothy McKim ("Get A Horse!"), "Gigantic" hits  U.S. theaters in 2018. ©2015 Disney. All Rights Reserved.

Finally, we need to mention the newly announced film Gigantic, which, yes, is based on Jack and the Beanstalk, but sounds like a relatively fresh rehash, both in terms of setting and characters. The Jack in this film is from Spain at the time of the Age of Exploration, and as Time reports, his new larger-than-life friend is actually an 11-year-old girl, whom Gigantic’s creators based on an actual Spanish child they met. This female protagonist, named Inma, sounds like a great addition to the recent string of strong, self-motivated Disney/Pixar heroines (see: Frozen, Inside Out), as a D23 press release makes mention of her having a personality as big as her stature.

I don’t know about you, but as much as I’ve been heartened by recent Disney films, especially Inside Out and its truly universal messages about what it means to feel and feel big, there is always room for more inclusive storytelling from this company, especially since we all know that it caters to both children and adults. That’s why I’m excited to know that the people working at Disney are excited to present Moana and Gigantic, films that feature both empowering and culturally diverse female characters in leading roles. And that’s why I’m curious about Coco and what it could offer. And that’s why I’m hoping these two films are the start of something even bigger and (I can only hope) better.

What do you think of these new Disney films? What other cultures would you like to see Disney explore?

(images via Jesse Grant/Getty Images for Disney)

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