Cynthia Arroyo | Staff Writer
[This article is part of the series “The Disney Design: How One of the World’s Most Well-Known Industries Reuses and Revamps its Formula.”]
It’s no secret that Disney has a history of painting their princesses in rather domesticated roles. However, in light of recent films and hope for new releases, Disney seems to be changing its magical tune.
It isn’t quite fair to label films like “Cinderella,” “Sleeping Beauty,” “Snow White” and “The Little Mermaid” anti-
feminist or anti-women. They have intrinsic value as Disney classics.
However, Aurora of “Sleeping Beauty” and Snow White are both asleep for the majority of the films, rendering them rather incapacitated. Snow White is characterized as the “maiden who slept in the glass coffin” (as if her personality could be more dead). Cinderella is confined to household duties and generally oppressed. Ariel trades her voice for a chance with a man she saw on a boat for 20 seconds. All of these characters are victimized by a jealous villain and need saving by a handsome lad who usually arrives on a horse and does the kissing-while-asleep thing.
Teresa Compean, a junior English major, recently quit her six year stint at Disneyland to pursue her college career, but hopes to return to Disney upon graduation.
“I think it’s great that Disney is expanding their horizons in showing that girls don’t need a man to save them,” Compean said.
Although Compean does not know why younger girls are gravitating towards the newer characters, it is her observation that children are enjoying the “story” now rather than the Prince Charming and Princess content or lack thereof.
The 2016 Disney film “Moana” completely omits a love interest in the storyline. Instead, the story focuses on Moana, a chieftain from the Pacific Islands, who saves her tribe through a sailing journey across the sea. She partners with a demi-god and restores the heart of the goddess, mother island Te Fiti.
Anna and Elsa, essentially, save each other. Just as Hans is about to kill ice queen Elsa, Anna shields her, effectively turning to ice because of a previous run-in with her sister’s magical powers (long story). Anna’s lover, Kristoff, has just arrived to heal Anna with traditional Disney true-love’s-first-kiss agenda, but Elsa’s tears pour out affection for her sister and Anna’s ice melts away, saving her life. These two stories stand in sharp contrast to the classics.
The sexuality of the last few popular Disney women is unknown and there is no singular interpretation; but, it has the benefit of the doubt to be up for debate, which is not something that can be said about earlier Disney princess films.
The message to young girls and boys alike is that they can be the main character and the hero. They can be strong and willful like Moana and Merida and create positive change. Young girls learn that they do not just function as feminine entertainment and young boys learn not to treat them that way.
In his 2016 article, “Feminisney: When Disney Meets Feminism,” Sean Randall of The Huffington Post said, “…if one wants to understand why popular media [is] giving more expansive, positive, and three-dimensional roles to female, non-white, and LGBTQ+ characters and actors, one has to be capable of admitting that women, non-white people, and LGBTQ+ people exist, consume media, and, most importantly, matter.”
There has not previously been a large variety of representation in Disney’s history, but diverse layers of the human existence are now beginning to be weaved throughout the films. One can only guess where they will go from here.