Please Note: This is a mature subject matter. If you're uncomfortable feel free not to read.
This is my first time writing an article on Fanpop as well as on the topic of Disney but I have in fact written comprehensive articles about the place sexuality holds in American society so I at least can claim to know my facts fairly well. This is a break down on movie by movie basis exploring the sexual tones, or what I can pull since these are really films for kids, of not only the princess but also the prince as well as a few characters on the side. Let's go in chronological order!
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)
I think it is important to first foremost denote the ages of both Snow White and the seemingly faceless prince. Snow White is just barely stepping into womanhood at fourteen years old. She has no breasts and only the slightest suggestion of hips brought on by the tightness of her dress' bodice. She has the mentality of a young girl, blithely waltzing into the dwarfs' house, sleeping in their beds, and just generally carrying on in an endearingly oblivious manner. She is unaware of herself, her beauty, or how it might make others perceive her. It should be noted that while it didn't take much on the prince's behalf to gain her trust she was, however, initially frightened by him and his overt advances. But I doubt this is so much an awareness of how he as a man perceives her as a beautiful girl so much as he is a stranger wandering into her garden.
The prince is eighteen years old, the physiological sexual peak in a human male. What I find interesting about him is he's sort of... aggressive but fearful. He displays his potency in his forward manner with Snow White. After all he climbed her wall at the beginning and simply scooped her up at the end. Yet, at the same time, he retreats. He comes on strong at the start but once Snow White begins to flee he tries a different tact. He sings to her, drawing her out and portraying a more... gentleman-like conviction. He seems to me almost realistic in his behavior as odd as that sounds. Young men inexperienced in love will come out of the gate charging head on but when the girl reacts unfavorably he realizes he must use a gentler, less sexually aggressive tact. His attachment to her started off superficially as it does with most young men but when he sees she does not react well to such behavior he adapts to express he wants more than a cheap thrill. That he wants to be near her and to know her. He's one of my favorite princes for this reason. He's potent but not pushy.
Cinderella, unlike Snow White, is a full grown woman. She has curves, an adult facial structure, and a more mature perspective. She expresses frustration and irritation unlike Snow White that shows that she is not only kind but aware of the world around her. However, like her predecessor, Cinderella is not the most experienced with male behavior. In fact I would even argue to say that Snow White had a bit more sense than Cinderella when it comes to men. When the prince came into Snow White's yard and began to make his advances so forwardly so quickly Snow White fled while Cinderella declares Prince Charming's quick advances happily as love.
Prince Charming is rather forward with his priorities, skipping all other maidens at the ball in favor of the extremely physically attractive Cinderella. I would like to note something important about this: physical attraction is a sexually based feeling. When you find someone physically attractive enough to pursue as a potential spouse this comes from the desire to have sex with them. Is this wrong? Not at all! We all have to start somewhere! What I take issue with, however, is Prince Charming is demanding and makes superficial decisions. Much like the soon to be discussed Prince Phillip, he grabs and pulls at the girl of his choice when she tries to take her leave acting like she is a possession rather than a human being. Perhaps most expressive of his “possession-rather-than-human” feelings he doesn't even go out to find her himself, instead sending the duke to the grunt work for him as he cannot be bothered. It seemed more like sending a servant to track down a lost favorite toy than to find the love of his life in my opinion.
Sleeping Beauty (1959)
Prince Phillip is one word – aggressive! If I had to pick one Disney prince who struck me as the most sexually forward and advancing Phillip takes the cake no question. Had Sleeping Beauty not been a movie for families I wouldn't have a doubt in my mind that his interest in the beautiful peasant girl Briar Rose would simply based in carnal lust rather than any substantial emotion. He is a man that doesn't take no for an answer, often grabbing at Briar Rose or blocking her path when she attempts to flee. And he's not just aggressive with the princess but with everyone around him. He treats his father with mocking disregard, knowing full well that his desire to marry the pretty peasant girl would cause enormous strife between his father and Aurora's. But, in fact, it is this very same eager aggression that makes him so potent a hero. He faces Maleficent without a second thought because he is so confident and self-assured. His overt behavior coupled with his confidence really does ooze sexual potency in my mind. He is masculine to his very core, assertive and clearly a man's-man.
Aurora, on the other hand, is rather interesting in her mixed signals. She flees initially, embraces him, flees again, and yet invites him into her cottage. It should also be noted the stark contrast between her reaction to the arranged marriage problem in comparison to Phillip's. Phillip is domineering masculinity with a “Like I care what you think” attitude towards his supposed authority figure. Aurora, on the other hand, immediately melts into a weepy pile of tears of despair but would never go against the three faeries who are her authority figures. I'd also like to make a quick call back to Prince Charming about Phillip to explain an extremely sexually submissive behavior in Aurora. Phillip, like Charming, takes a less than emotional tact to the situation. Certainly much more than lazy bones Charming who couldn't be bothered to stick a shoe on some broads let alone fight a dragon but Phillip obviously views Aurora as his possession and thus perhaps his responsibility. After all he is a man's man and a woman once claimed needs to be taken care of! Aurora is interesting in that she immediately forms an intense emotional attachment to the man she met in the forest. So much so that she collapses into a weeping pile upon learning of her arranged marriage. And I honestly think her tears were for her inability to be with the man she “loved” rather than the fact that her ability to choose was being taken away. She is thus in essence much more willing to submit to Phillip's aggressive behavior as she has created the idea of needing him.
The Little Mermaid (1989)
It's the go-go 80's and it seems sexual roles have taken a bit of a switch this time around. Not to say Ariel is about to club Eric over the head and drag him into her sea-cave but that the female party is the far more sexually advancing one. Ariel is sixteen and of a very romantic mind so initial infatuation blooms in to full blown limerence or in her mind love. It should also be noted that her decision to pursue this is perhaps not entirely noble romantic. I read a strong feeling of spite towards her father, the common teenage “I'll show you!” sort of attitude. Once up on land Ariel is thrown into something of a quandary for a romantic: how do you win his heart without being able to speak and thus express your feelings? Ursula said it best, “Don't under estimate the importance of body language!” Ariel, perhaps not entirely meaning to but with an obvious tone of sexual manipulation, uses her physical charms to win her prince. During the “Kiss the Girl” sequence Ariel employs what I can only describe as bedroom eyes and even in their first encounter her fall into his arms seemed somewhat calculated, particularly in the knowing smile she shot to her friends. But to be honest I think this is a great thing about Ariel. She shows that women can and will display sexual desire and potency when they want to. She had the hots for Eric and damn it she was gonna get 'im, one way or another, and I think that's pretty forward thinking in comparison to her predecessors.
Eric on the other hand... well he shows goo-goo eyed admiration for Ariel, most notably during the dinner scene. Honestly, though, in spite of Ariel's overt signals his reactions are tepid. He clings to the idea of marrying the girl who saved his life, a rather romantic notion, and doesn't decide on Ariel until Grimsby presents the romantic notions of Ariel. Sweet, kind, right in front of him, and perhaps in my own mind the romantic idea of his finding her alone without a voice on the beach appealed to his sensibilities. Once he learns that his mute cutey is also his rescuer all deals are sealed and he's in it for the long haul even if that meant fighting a giant octopus witch. Hell I bet he would've been completely cool with Ariel being a mermaid at the end and a man can't bone a mermaid! (Well... not in the usual way any way...) Eric has me at a cross roads. I am definitely all about a man who wants more than a pretty face and has romantic notions but he seemed so... girlish in his romantic sensibilities that I found him unrealistic.
Beauty and the Beast (1991)
This time I want to talk about three characters: Belle, Beast (Adam), and Gaston. The problem with this movie and its attitude towards sexuality comes in its moral of inner beauty versus outer beauty. The Beast and Gaston exist in diametrically opposing sides and quite frankly reside in very extreme ends of the sexual spectrum.
To be frank, the enchantress must have taken the prince's balls as well as his humanity when she turned him into a beast. He is quite possibly the most non-sexually aggressive character I have ever seen. Now you might be thinking that his entrapment of Belle and sheer violent aggression makes him similar to Phillip but this is not so. The Beast didn't make Belle his prisoner to have her, he made her his prisoner so she could break the spell and make him human again. He viewed her as a tool initially, not as a woman. But as the movie progresses he begins to fall in love with her and he's awkward as hell. Belle accurately describes him as “unsure”. The Beast, unlike the extremely confident Phillip, is insecure and unsure of himself. He simply doesn't have the self-confidence to be sexually aggressive. Disney did this pretty much intentionally to make the expression of inner beauty against outer beauty more apparent. The Beast, while obviously aware of Belle's outer beauty, is very focused on her inner beauty. So much so that he seems like he's really... well... neutered.
Gaston, on the other hand, is like Prince Phillip ramped up a thousand times. He is extremely self-confident, extremely aggressive, and overtly advancing. Like a Disney prince of yore he corners Belle by blocking her path, pinning her against walls, and taking her things. He goes beyond Phillip though by being frankly predatory. I know this is a kid's movie but some of his behavior, particularly when he's inside her house, struck me as borderline sex offender behavior. And, unlike the Beast, he simply views Belle for her beauty. So much so that he wants her in spite of her personality traits that a man like him would find unappealing. Her sexual appeal is so important that really it didn't matter who she was on the inside. He expressed mild disapproval of her reading but at the end of the day it really didn't seem to matter to him either way as long as he got what he wanted. Gaston is an unfortunate example of anti-sexualism in our society. He is an evil person and thus is extremely sexually aggressive. Conversely the Beast is good and thus essentially an eunuch.
Belle is pretty much the same as the Beast. Unlike say Ariel, Belle seemingly has little to no thought for appearance and never once flirts or is advancing. It is a wonder that she and the Beast got anywhere at all! (I'll throw that one at Lumiere's work. He was the only sexually balanced character in that entire movie. A good guy who also lusted after women?! Gasp!) She ignores Gaston who is apparently the local stud muffin and was only shocked momentarily by the Beast's monstrous visage. I honestly don't know if this is good or bad really. I am an honest supporter of rich full attraction based on both personality and physical appearance. It strikes me as unpleasantly unrealistic to give off this impression that love must essentially be non-physical and asexual. It is also frankly unfair to throw around this idea that physical attraction is a bad thing.
I love Aladdin. He's eighteen years old, slightly insecure about his place in life, but a committed flirt nonetheless. His body language, and not to mention eye setting, when speaking to the harem girls in “One Jump Ahead” is fantastic. Perhaps he feels more comfortable flirting with them than Jasmine for two reasons. The first being the nature of their trade. Disney can never overtly discuss it but those girls were essentially prostitutes. Thus they are more comfortable with sexual advances than a princess who has only left the palace once in her life. The second is that Jasmine is a high-class princess while these harem girls, like him, are low class. They work for their bread in a business that is not exactly smiled upon. But in that same light the girls in the song seem to express a feeling of being above him. After all they work for their money while he's a thief. He may be handsome and a charmer but to these girls who gotta earn their wages being involved with him just feels beneath them. I like Aladdin a lot because he doesn't focus his sexuality solely on Jasmine. The harem girls in “One Jump Ahead” and “Prince Ali” along with the dancers in “Never Had a Friend Like Me” all get winning smiles and very overt flirtation from him. Aladdin is a wonderful balance of sexually aggressive and insecure. Jasmine certainly intimidates him to the point where he has to put on a huge act filled with splendor and excess. What's interesting though is that when he thought her a simple peasant girl he felt no insecurity with her. Obviously Aladdin is secure enough in his physical appearance that Jasmine's beauty was no inhibitor. His insecurity with her resided simply in rank. He had no money, lived in a busted up hovel, and had to steal for daily necessities. Why would this girl, whose personality he felt out when he thought her a peasant like him, ever want to be with him when she has everything in the world?
Jasmine is interesting in that while she herself does not express sexual interest, being something of a romantic as she fell in love with Prince Ali after he took her on a magic carpet ride, she does know how to use sexuality as a weapon. When talking to Aladdin on her terrace she begins to intimidate him by advancing on him in a sexually aggressive fashion, something he is obviously unfamiliar and uncomfortable with. He is so used to being the one making the rejected advances that when she is all the way up against him he even begins to retreat as he is so unfamiliar with it. Perhaps her most notable use of sexuality as a weapon is against Jafar. She strokes his ego, puts her arms about his neck, uses Ariel's patented bedroom eyes, and even kisses him – the Disney equivalent to sex. I like Jasmine a lot in this sense. She's not really concerned with sexuality but she is aware of it and she is aware of her own sex appeal. I think that's a really great and unique quality in a character who is obviously a “good guy”.
Gonna admit it, I haven't seen this movie in a while. I'll get back to it once I watch it again.
Mulan, the movie about cross dressing that let's me pretend that the heroine's love interest is delightfully kinky. Mulan is a girl who is pushed between two gender role extremes until she becomes comfortable somewhere in the middle. Her complete failure of the matchmaker's test shows her discomfort with overt femininity. After all, the song “Reflection” seems to be all about that as when she looks at the reflection of herself all painted up and beautified as an idealized thing of Chinese beauty she sees someone that is simply not her. But her time as a man teaches her that fleeing to the other end of the spectrum wasn't her either. She wasn't a man and her act was unconvincing at best. But it took exploring both her feminine side and her masculine side to come to terms with the fact that she was a tom boy. At her heart a girl but boyish in spirit. She is also the first Disney Princess to be sexually interested in her male counter part but not obsess over it. We see her marvel at Shang's physique when he removes his shirt and her embarrassed denial when Mushu confronts her about her crush. But she is a woman with priorities. Fighting for her father and land as well as understanding herself were much more important to her than going after her hunky captain. She is an excellent realistic balance and perhaps the most mature of the Disney heroines.
Shang has the slight problem that up until the end of the movie he thought Mulan was a man. He formed a brother-at-arms like appreciation for “Fa Ping” when “he” saved his life and I like to pretend perhaps a conflicted attraction to the unusually girly warrior. It is really no wonder at all why he's so awkward upon visiting Mulan at her home. Their relationship was taking a dramatic turn from trusted friend to romantic interest. Perhaps it is important to note that Mulan also proved that she truly was the same person male or female in front of him when she defeated Shan Yu at the capitol. She showed herself a unique sort of woman with femininity as well as masculinity, an ideal mix for the spouse of a military commander like him. Her femininity appealed to his sexuality obviously. She was beautiful as a woman and had female traits that would be desirable in a wife. Her masculine traits appealing to his personality and dedication to military service.
The Princess and the Frog (2009)
I am sure I'll get some dissenters out there but in my opinion Naveen was all bark no bite. His flirtation seemed more an expression of a care-free spirit than any sign of sexual aggression. He was certainly confident and outgoing but I never once sensed actual desire. I think at the core of it Naveen was too self-absorbed to be a truly sexually round person. He was caught up in revelry, a good time, and showing off rather than paying close mind to any particular woman. This obviously speaks badly of him in a way but it also allowed him to learn to appreciate Tiana in an interpersonal way. He didn't desire her but he was forced into a situation where he had to stop focusing on himself entirely and pay her mind. Tiana didn't play his games and didn't let him flirt with her to get attention. He had to work for her attention. I think Disney did a very unique thing with Naveen. They made him not overtly sexual without neutering him.
Tiana is a girl with a one-track mind. She's got stuff to do, places to be, and people to see! Men? They are at the bottom of her list along with fun. Much like Belle to Gaston, Tiana doesn't seem much impressed with the handsome man Naveen on first glance. No physical feature could make up for his irreverent behavior, which was a general affront to everything Tiana believed in. She, like her male counter part, was not sexualized but not made into an unrealistic creature like Belle. Tiana in her under layers is a girl with an eye for a man but she is in her own strange way self-absorbed like Naveen but in an opposing fashion. She is focused solely on her own goals and dreams, unable to pay mind to men as he is unable to entirely pay mind to women. I frankly didn't like the movie itself but I found Disney's sexual formation for Tiana and Naveen an interesting tactic to making a romance movie that is kid appropriate while not entirely unrealistic.
Much like Snow White and her beau it is important to note these two's ages. Rapunzel is an eighteen year old girl with less world experience than any princess before her. She has literally been locked inside a tower for the entirety of her life and the first non-female human she ever saw was Flynn. Obviously this renders Rapunzel as confused about sexuality as she is about everything else. She is both terribly frightened by as well as curious about men. But her inexperience also renders her immune to Flynn's “smolder” and other various charming techniques. She doesn't begin to truly form an attraction to him until he begins to display disarmingly human qualities, such when he confesses the truth about his name. Rapunzel is a character I can forgive her lack of sexual interest simply because her story almost demands it. She doesn't know what makes for a desirable man. She's unequipped with the tools to form proper sexual attraction before emotional attraction.
Flynn, on the other hand, has a bit of the Jasmine in him. He never seems particularly interested in women and even says that his dream is to live alone on an island with riches. But he does know how to use sexuality as a tool. He flirts with Rapunzel upon introduction in hope of gaining her trust and thus securing his freedom. He hadn't counted on the fact that she was unfamiliar with “flirtation” as whole and would only find it an oddity rather than anything charming. She even flat out rejected his apparent secret weapon – the aforementioned “smolder”. However he does show an appreciation for physical beauty when he sees Rapunzel in the town with her hair braided. But by then he had already begun to form an emotional attachment, something probably profound for him as he seems the type without attachment to anyone prior. By the company he keeps early in the film it is clear he is usually around untrustworthy people and to find a girl whom he could actually relate probably help prod him to view her as a woman both emotionally and sexually rather than as simply a means to an ends. It is also important to note that Flynn is seemingly somewhere in his mid-twenties. He's more experienced in the world and perhaps more jaded than Rapunzel, thus leading him further down into a state of mistrust. Trust becomes a valued oddity and people often sexualize that which is novel as well as meaningful.
Well I hope you've enjoyed it. Once I can figure out a way to see Pocahontas I will write up my analysis. Last time I saw it I was probably six years old. That was well over a decade ago. Comments and opinions are welcome!