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'Moana': A look at Disney's newest female character and her upcoming film

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(Read caption) 'Moana' stars Dwayne Johnson.

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Disney’s next female protagonist will be named Moana and will be at the center of an animated movie set for 2016. 

Moana hails from “the ancient South Pacific world of Oceania,” according to Disney, and in the film, she travels on a sea voyage in order to look for a legendary island. She is joined by a demigod named Maui (voiced by Dwayne Johnson). 

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The part of Moana hasn’t been cast yet, but Disney staff recently discussed the upcoming movie at the company’s D23 Expo. “It’s a key part of this movie, the part of Moana, so we want to take our time with it, but we’re hoping we can make the announcement relatively soon in the future,” the movie’s co-director, John Musker, said in an interview. Musker and the film’s other director, Ron Clements, have an impressive Disney track record: the duo co-directed such animated classics as “The Little Mermaid,” “Aladdin,” and the more recent film “The Princess and the Frog,” the last of which didn’t do as well at the box office but was well-received by critics. 

Some are hailing Moana as the first Disney princess of Polynesian origin, but the company has stated in the past that fans shouldn’t attach a particular label to characters. The question of diversity in Disney characters recently came up when an executive producer of the “Sofia the First” TV movie said in 2012 that Sofia was the first Latina Disney character, but senior vice president of original programming and general manager of Disney Junior Worldwide Nancy Kanter later said, “Sofia is a fairytale girl who lives in a fairytale world.  All our characters come from fantasy lands that may reflect elements of various cultures and ethnicities but none are meant to specifically represent those real world cultures.”

Later, Disney said of Princess Elena of Avalor, a new character who will be at the center of a new animated TV show, that she lives “in an enchanted fairytale kingdom inspired by diverse Latin cultures and folklore.” Elena’s show is set to premiere in 2016.