The Evolution of Disney Princesses

Since the 1930’s, children of the world have connected with the characters in Disney films. Disney’s princesses especially have both influenced and reflected society’s image of women. The recent decade of princesses shows a significant shift in values. No longer do pretty princesses fall head over heels for a prince in day. They now inspire, empower and teach us to be conscious of culture, race, as well as valuable lessons in love and dreams.

What do Snow White, Cinderella, and Aurora have in common? Well, first starters, they were all rosy-cheeked, pale skinned women with slight frames. They cooked, they cleaned, they sang and they all talked to furry little critters that pranced in the woods and inside the walls of their houses. Oh yeah! They also had bitter, uglier women who wanted to undermine the princesses’ success just because of their beauty.

“Snow White,” “Cinderella” and “Sleeping Beauty” reflected a period in society (1930’s-1950’s) where both men and women conformed to strict gender roles. Men were expected to be the breadwinners for the family. The stereotype for women was to play skinny housewives who could manage both motherhood and having dinner ready for their husband’s return. All three princesses knew how to cook and clean and they never complained about it.

All three needed a prince to save them from the life they knew. Snow White and Aurora relied on the kiss of a prince to wake them up. Cinderella needed to marry a prince to escape her household tyrant. As lovely and magical as these princesses were, their reliance on men made it appear to youth that women’s lives were only made better when a man entered it.

The introduction of Ariel, Jasmine, Belle, Pocahontas and Mulan remade the Disney princess brand. These princesses presented loyalty to their family, questioned social norms and went on adventures outside of their personal sphere. Ariel was a dreamer and loved to explore. Jasmine and Belle stood for substance over beauty when it came to love and dreamed of traveling the world. Pocahontas and Mulan were selfless heroines who risked their own lives to save the people they cared for. Another perk was that the villains sought power instead of beauty (except for Gaston, he was still small-minded and petty).

Disney’s movies, at this point, said that a woman can be empowered by educating themselves, exploring and being generous. It was a much-needed change. If Disney stuck to the same social norms found in the older princess movies, they would not have been as welcomed by the movie-goers and children. One of the only negative responses to the movies was that some of the princesses were too sexualized. Ariel and Jasmine especially received mixed reviews for their clothing choices. Another complaint was that the princesses had to be in a relationship by whatever means necessary. Pocahontas was not only historically incorrect but the writers aged her up to create a romance between her and John Smith.

The progress shown in this decade of Disney is noteworthy. Tiana, Rapunzel, Merida, Anna, Elsa, Elena of Avalor and Moana embody the lessons we want our generation’s children to believe in. Their stories reflect female independence, different body types, different cultures, and risking their lives for the people they lead(props to Pocahontas in this area as well).

Tiana was groundbreaking, not only because she was Disney’s first black princess, but because she was not looking for a relationship. She set goals to open her own restaurant and believed that hard work helps make dreams happen. Disney finally scrapped the idea of overnight love when they created Rapunzel and Tiana’s stories. The girls fell in love after putting in time getting to know their “prince”. Disney took this revolution further by showing how horribly falling fast can go (i.e. Anna and Prince Han’s relationship in “Frozen”). Disney also scrapped true love’s kiss and turned it into “an act of true love”. Anna and Elsa’s mass following is teaching girls everywhere that sisters are more important than misters. Queen Elsa, Merida and the new princess, Elena of Avalor boldly made the decision to lead their people without marrying.

Merida is praised as the first Disney princess with a realistic female form. Her hair is unruly and her waist is not ridiculously tiny (she even rejects a corset). Queen Elsa is also well-known for her curvy reveal after the “Frozen” song “Let it Go.” Disney is now telling girls to be proud of their shape and to not compare their beauty to the slight forms of the original princesses.

Moana, Disney’s latest heroine, is the most successful and princess that they have created in terms of message. The girl is young, not sexualized and has a pure curiosity of the outside world. The islander princess travels with the Demigod Maui to return a magical stone that will save her people. She travels the sea with a male companion and without the talk of romance and marriage. Her body type reflects a 14-year-old and is toned like one who spends the day swimming and walking the island should be. The filmmakers were also conscious of the Hawaiian public and tried their best to not insult the culture.

I believe that Disney’s huge success with Frozen told them what the public wanted today’s princesses to stand for. Moana was their response. Every bit of positive feedback that they have accumulated over the years was included in this movie to make her a positive figure for today’s youth. I believe that there will be many more Moana’s in the future and am looking forward to it. I will forever be a Disney fan and love all the princesses, but I cannot hide my elation to the changes brought about in this decade.

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