The box office success of "Moana" confirms Disney's status atop the pecking order of major studios.
It owes its apex predator status to the way it has deftlybolstered and built on the power of its suite of cinematic brands, as well as its ability to create stories featuring diverse protagonists that reflect the changing face of the moviegoing public.
"Moana" is the latest Disney film to be based on a strong female protagonist. Though the studio has long featured women in lead roles dating as far back as 1937's "Snow White," and has minted money from its "Princess Collection" of consumer products, its female characters have adopted a more assertive and empoweredstance over the past few decades. Whereas earlier Disney heroines waited around for their prince to come and save the day, Moana takes it upon herself to embark on a perilousoceanic voyage in order to lift her island home from a curse. It's the kind of adventuring that would have been left for the guys in Disney films of yore.
Nor is "Moana" alone in its progressive nature. "Frozen," "Zootopia," and "Brave" are just a few of the recent animated offerings to have focused on women and girls who are assertive, emancipated, and the equal to any man. Moreover, "Moana" is populated by Pacific Islanders, a far more diverse set of people than the ones who pop up in the lily white worlds of the original "Cinderella" or "Beauty and the Beast."
"We've had a series of films with empowered women doing amazing things," said Dave Hollis, Disney's distribution chief. "There's something in that that's sticky and resonates with a broader audience. It's fresh and different, but there's still something familiar and relatable to the movies we're making."
It also comes at a time when the consumer base is diversifying. Studies show that black and Hispanic moviegoers over-sample as a portion of the population and the film-going audience remains majority female. Moreover, the movie business is increasingly a global one, with more than 70% of revenues for most major Hollywood blockbusters coming from foreign audiences.
At a time when the entertainment industry is engulfed in an ongoing debate about the lack of meaty roles for women and minorities, Disney has thrived by creating vehicles for females and people of color.