Hi! It’s Annie!
As some of the older Disney movies are looked at again, and with some of them being questionably remade, the Disney princesses have been specifically scrutinized. This isn’t without reason; many people have been looking back at them to see which princesses are actually good female representation. Even though there are definitely some characters who aren’t as great looking back, there are a few who, at least I feel, are completely misunderstood and very undeserving of the hate. Let’s look at which princesses have been accused rightly and which ones, I believe, have a bit more to them than what people are saying.
Sleeping Beauty- Aurora has an absolutely beautiful singing voice and I love her dress. But that movie was not about Aurora even if it was named for her. She barely has any screen time at all, and much of that screen time is her asleep. Specifically, she is on screen for only eighteen minutes of the movie and only has eighteen lines of dialogue. She is given absolutely no personality and is the definition of a damsel in distress. I actually watched this movie again after figuring out how little she was in it and was really surprised at what I hadn’t remembered was the actual content of the movie. Philip is barely in it either. The movie is centered around Flora, Fauna, and Merryweather and it is them who get most of the work done throughout the course of the film. Maleficent never would have died if the fairies hadn’t enchanted Phillip’s sword. Even though this movie is essentially female centered, Aurora still spends the movie without much of any personality traits other than she’s sleepy and likes to sing.
Snow White- Snow White deserves some credit for being the first of Disney’s animated films and creating the plethora of beloved films that we know today. But Snow White isn’t a good character. She spends the movie falling in love at first sight, passing out in the forest from fear, cleaning the Dwarves’ house, and being tricked into eating a poisoned apple by an obviously shady old woman. The fact that the Dwarves initially protect her because they find her a useful housekeeper is pretty questionable considering the gender roles of the time period the movie came out in. Most people now also point out that her voice is extremely annoying. Which, it is. She is again exempt from the action at the end of the movie because she is not conscious and the Dwarves end up solving all of her problems. Then she leaves them all behind for some guy she’s barely met even though they were all standing around her coffin crying. Pretty ungrateful if you ask me.
Pocahontas- I am not an Indigenous person, so I can’t speak on this issue with absolute knowledge on the situation. However, it’s not difficult to see that this movie is pretty racist. The song ‘Savages’ is meant to show how equally morally wrong both groups are, but if you look at the history it was definitely the colonists that were in the wrong. I think it’s pretty stupid to also claim that the First Nation people were doing any sort of wrong when all they were doing was defending their land. It’s also completely ridiculous to make John Smith the love interest for Pocahontas. That’s really gross. The character of Pocahontas does have personality, but her portrayal is skewed by the very white way the writers decided to adapt this situation. If they wanted to adapt this, there should have been Native Americans in the writing room. But there should be more POC behind the scenes in Hollywood in general.
Ariel- Ariel has been getting a lot of flack for a while now and it took me a minute to figure out why. Eventually I realized it was because people were saying that Ariel left everything behind for a man and ‘The Little Mermaid’ teaches little girls to do the same. I personally think this is missing the point. Firstly, ‘Part of Your World’ is actually sung before Ariel even sees Eric or knows he exists. This seems to be the biggest point of confusion in the argument against Ariel. Ariel wants to go to the human world from the beginning of the film and Eric is sort of the icing on the cake of it all. He did not place an idea in her head that wasn’t already there. When Ariel decides to stay it’s because she finally feels like she has found where she belongs. Ariel is admittedly a little bratty throughout the movie, but it’s something she grows out of. It’s actually nice to see a Disney princess who is purposely flawed after the classic princesses. Ariel is also not a damsel at the end of this movie; she’s the one who kills Flotsam and Jetsam. Ariel is a really strong character.
Mulan- This one might be a surprising addition to this list and I completely understand why. Most people love Mulan. But after the supremely bad remake, there have been people pointing fingers back at the original Mulan for not passing the Bechdel Test. The Bechdel Test states that if a movie does not feature two or more named female characters, who speak with each other, about something other than men or children, it does not have ideal female representation. Though this test is great in most cases and I really believe in it, I don’t think this test really applies to the original Mulan movie. The new Mulan movie doesn’t pass the test even though it meant to, which is definitely an issue. They created an entirely new character for Mulan to talk to only for them to talk only about how men are treating her. They also give all of the credit for Mulan being a badass to a supernatural power, so that movie wasn’t great for female representation anyways. The story of Mulan is supposed to be about Mulan being the only woman there and subverting expectations. The original Mulan works because it shows that women are just as strong and smart as men are. And she does it all without supernatural powers. The original Mulan should not be blamed for what the new movie failed to do.
Belle- I have made an entire post on how this movie is not an example of Stockholm Syndrome if you want to check that out. Because it’s really not. But there are other things Belle has been accused of since. For example, she sings about wanting adventure but she stays with Beast at the end and there’s also the movie’s obvious viewing of Belle as “not like other girls” complete with villainizing the Bimbettes. Of all things, they really had to call them the Bimbettes? While I can’t excuse the movie for the villainization of all of the other women in the village, I can say that Belle doesn’t exactly fit the trope of “not like other girls”. Though her song seems to be about that specifically, we later learn that part of the reason the town views her that way is because of the reputation of her father. It isn’t only because she reads. We also don’t know what Belle did after the events of the movie, but she sort of found her own adventure in the castle anyways. Belle proves herself time and time again to not be the kind of person who sacrifices all of her life decisions for a guy. She goes toe to toe with the Beast several times. I think she probably would have travelled afterwards whether the Beast liked it or not.
There are other Disney princess who receive a lot of flack, but these are the ones that were currently on my radar. I also have to admit that the Disney princesses get better over time. The original princesses ( such as Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, and Snow White) were not active in their own stories. They sort of just had things happen to them. The Renaissance princesses (such as Ariel and Belle) had dreams that they went after. The recent Disney princesses (like Merida and Moana) have specific goals and actually explored flaws. They are completely dynamic characters. But there are still complete badasses from other eras (like Mulan and Jasmine) who have more unique stories and take stances that will always be viewed as modern. Such as Jasmine refusing to be married off because she’s not a prize to be won and Mulan proving that women are strong and very intelligent. I only hope that Raya of Disney’s upcoming movie ‘Raya and the Last Dragon’ will be just as badass as some of her predecessors.
See you across the pond!