I used to love the Disney Princesses. Anyone who remembers when I was a regular addict to this website knows that I loved them. But something’s changed. I just don’t remember what I ever saw in them. This article, of course, is opinion only and I am in no way trying to insult anyone or suggest that they are wrong in liking the Disney Princesses, but I just don’t feel the same way about them anymore. I still love the movies they’re in, for the art and entertainment value. But as characters, I really must say I find the majority of these leading ladies to be flat, lifeless, recycled and slightly morphed versions of the same tired archetypal female character. I don’t feel the need to get into the usual accusations against the girls (“Belle is a battered woman!” “Ariel throws her life away for a male stranger!” etc) because I’m sure most of you have seen those arguments before. I’m more just talking about my personal lack of interest in their personalities. The princesses who I think deserve acknowledgment for being more than an archetype are Snow White, Pocahontas, and Mulan.
Snow White is not really much of a role model for little girls to me but who says that’s all Disney Princesses can be good for? She is an exaggerated caricature of women in the good ol’ days and I really do find her quite an endearing, entertaining character. She’s not flat to me. She’s crazy and weird and has a distinctly memorable voice and is just so over-the-top. She’s one of those characters who is borderline annoying to some people and lovable to others, but all in a way that makes you want to keep watching because there’s something so fascinating about her absurdity and big personality. Whether or not you agree with what she does, you have to admit she has personality and is memorable as a character. Not just a princess, as a character she sticks in your mind. She’s cartoony and funny, whether or not it’s intentional (I think it partly was at least).
Pocahontas just carries herself with such integrity. She appears strong. She is not infantilized. Most of the princesses are literally given big eyes and pouty lips and chubby cheeks and it’s all because it gives them the innocent naïve youthful glow that is oh so cherished in women. Pocahontas appears strong. There’s wisdom in her normal-sized eyes. She has a jawline. Cheekbones. She has broad shoulders and appears to be a tall woman. She’s so visually atypical to the others that she deserves recognition for that alone. But she also doesn’t get together with a man in her movie. To me, that made her interesting. With Disney Princess movies, there’s just things you know for certain going into it every single freakin’ time. The princess and the prince will get together in the end and the bad guy will be defeated. Walking into those movies, the only question on your mind is “How are they gonna get together? What will the journey be before the happy ending?” For once, Disney surprised us. They gave us something more than a love story. Pocahontas has a bittersweet ending because sure, she hasn’t got a man, but she also stopped a war and created peace between two largely feuding groups. She has something to be proud about. I don’t interpret her and John Smith’s story as an epic romance. I see it as a realistic love story, where if things could have been different, then they would have been in a better place and time, and it wasn’t meant to be but you’ll always cherish those special times even though it couldn’t be in the end. Pocahontas is also a very serious character but it’s appropriate due to the content of her story. I like seeing someone who is fun-loving and adventurous mature and harden at the world after seeing a really ugly side of it. It’s not pleasant, but it’s intriguing. It’s unusual for Disney.
Mulan is the third one I praise for somewhat escaping Disney’s restrictive archetypal leading lady of the Princesses. Her story doesn’t revolve around a man. In fact, because it’s Disney and they seem to think it’s essential she find a man, they threw in one of the most awkward romantic climaxes in Disney history. It’s literally a casual, real, non-fairy tale, last-minute dinner date with the fam. It’s not epic or magical. The epic, magical quality of the story was all in Mulan’s accomplishments. Her story revolved around her actions solely and not her love life. This alone was refreshing for Disney.
Cinderella and Aurora are both painfully flat and archetypal to me. Ariel is a bit of an improvement, her surroundings and being a different species certainly helped her achieve a bit of needed variety. She’s a bit more carefree because unlike the other two, she only needs a man once she sets her sights on a specific man. The other two knew they needed a man before they even met the right one. Such role models. She also rescues a prince which was huge at the time and she saved him through actual physical labour, not her sweet little feminine tears (a la Belle and Rapunzel). Belle is pretty archetypal. She’s literally the same pretty, super sweet/polite girl but they put a book in her hand and apparently that means she’s a feminist. She’s an outcast in her town because she reads…if she didn’t read, everyone would love her. She’s not exactly Miss Controversial. Jasmine is interesting because she is a very hotheaded, angry young woman who is being oppressed by her own father. She doesn’t plan on marrying necessarily; she’ll do it if she meets the right guy. Aladdin is attracted to her for her looks initially and saves the poor weak dainty little lady from a big fat guy who wants to eat her hand for dindin. She then becomes the OBJECT of his desire for the rest of the movie and she’s treated like a piece of meat being fought over by two sexist pigs, except one of them is masculine and goodlooking so we’re supposed to root for him to get the girl. Tiana is very interesting because she has ambition and and a career, but it really rubs me the wrong way how the whole message is that she needs to stop being such a career bitch and make sure that she has the most important thing (a man) before accomplishing her less important goals (restaurant). Rapunzel doesn’t really have much personality either. She’s kind of just a cutesy girl who apparently knows a lot of cool action hero moves.
Disney movies are big fans of the “male as the default” system society uses. If a character doesn’t fit into one of the restrictive female archetypes, it’s automatically a boy. All Aladdin’s friends and sidekicks are boys, which might be written like so because it’s more common he would relate and have friendships with fellow males. So why are Ariel’s three friends all male? And Cinderella’s main two mice? And the animals Tiana meets in the swamp? And Rapunzel’s chameleon and horse? And Mulan’s sidekicks? Basically, Disney only writes a character as female if said character fits into one of three character archetypes: beautiful, kind-hearted heroine…older, less attractive woman with evil intentions…or wise, old maternal lady. If the character is just a funny, likeable sidekick or animal or henchman, they make it a guy. The subtlety behind this is dangerous because little girls watch these movies that are supposedly really directed towards them and yet they are still extremely male-dominated. They are literally given three characters to relate through, and obviously they pick the main one who’s main traits are her beauty and femininity and kindness. The kindness is good but why do all these women have to be designed like goddesses? Every...single...time...Even in the movies that push inner freaking beauty, the girl is still coveted for her looks in those stories (Belle, Esmeralda, Madellaine or whatever the blonde chick in that god awful sequel’s name is). Even when Mulan’s less than attractive army pals find girls counterparts of themselves in Mulan 2, for some reason, they’re all slender and nice looking and yet go for these goofy looking guys. Why have they yet to show a less attractive girl get a good looking guy when the opposite has been done now on numerous occasions?
I think that Disney movies are very stunning animation-wise and have beautiful scores and songs, but the portrayal of their women is just not impressive to me. In a world where at a young age, girls have Disney princesses and Barbie as their role models being shoved down their throat, it’s no wonder we have so many superficial bimbos setting women’s rights back fifty years these days. It’s unfortunate also because some of the few less boring, recycled versions of female archetypes Disney puts out are lesser known/beloved. You’ve got Megara from Hercules who is very blunt, rude, and really an anti-heroine. How many Disney movies have a freaking anti-heroine? Or Jane from Tarzan who is extremely comedic and multi-dimensional and smart. I’m glad Esmeralda didn’t go with Quasimodo because I found his love for her on the superficial side. She treated him respectfully and like a friend, and when she didn’t reciprocate his romantic feelings, he accepted that’s how it is. Some fans act like Esmeralda is an evil demon for choosing someone else over Quasimodo, but it’s just not the case. Anyway, this rant is basically why I don’t like the Disney Princesses particularly as interesting characters. Disney really gives these princess roles as the only option for young girls. While boys have main characters who are funny talking cars, funny talking mice, funny talking toys, funny talking monsters, ugly but nice on the inside etc, the girls have an unrealistically pretty girl who is very nice and finds her rightful place with a man in the end which makes her life all good and dandy. No matter how they re-package it, it all starts to leave a bitter aftertaste in my mouth. Although I do have to say, character-wise, my favourite is Snow White. She’s funny, whether intentionally or not. At least she’s not completely one-dimensional.