The Disney princess movies are American classics. Like them or hate them, fairytales are common knowledge in America. Why is it so important that Disney drills viewer’s heads with these fairytales, specifically young girls? While all of the Disney princesses offer viwers obvious good morals and life lessons, there are underlying messages in each innocent tale. America is attempting to shape the female youth with their friendly children’s tales. However, as women’s rights are evolving in America, the Disney princesses are evolving too. Disney keeps gender roles separate and concrete in their movies. The explanation for this behavior is the affect it has on the viewers of the films.
In the older princess movies such as Snow White, Cinderella, and Sleeping Beauty women’s place in society was clear: you can get a husband if you are beautiful and women should find it enjoyable to cook and clean. Disney is painting a portrait of the perfect woman as being submissive and dependent on other people, mostly men. In the more recent movies such as The Princess and the Frog and Frozen independence and ambition are two focal characteristics of the newer princesses. The evolution of Disney Princesses is due to the change of women’s place in society over time. With each movie the princesses can be directly correlated to the time period and women’s social standing.
“Skin as white as snow, lips as red as blood, and hair as black as ebony.” Snow White, the princess who began it all. She is described as being the most beautiful in all the land, and it seems that this is her most desirable quality. This movie is teaching little girls that as long as they are pretty, boys will want them. Young girls that see Snow White see that she’s beautiful, she’s kind, and she is treated unfairly. But underneath all of those truths, there are some other things she teaches the youth. When she begins living with the seven dwarfs she is the only woman in the house and she now has all of the cooking and cleaning responsibilities. If Prince Charming moved in with the dwarves would they expect him to cook and clean, of course not. This is what Disney is labeling as “woman’s work” and subconsciously making young girls think that is there place because Snow White makes it look like fun.
The next Disney Princess to take the stage was Cinderella. A girl who is mistreated by her stepmother. Cinderella is kept a slave in her own home, forced to wear rags, and serve her stepfamily. Her biggest dream is to go to the ball where she might just see the Prince. She has no dreams bigger than this? This is teaching young girls that as long as they pretty themselves up they might be able to find a wealthy man to escape their terrible living conditions. And “Bibbidy Bobbidy Boo” she is free from her misfortune. Climbing the social ladder with her good looks rather than her brain. She is showing that the only way out of her misery is to marry a Prince and be dependent on a man rather than seeking happiness and security outside of other people.
Not too long after Cinderella, a new princess is introduced whose main purpose is not to clean or cook. Unfortunately, she is still submissive. This marks the first change in the evolution of the Disney Princesses. Beauty and the Beast, a classic tale of inner beauty. Belle is in search of a life greater than her provincial town she grows up in, but when her father is trapped in a Beast’s castle she trades her life for his. From here on out it is a classic case of Stockholm syndrome. She falls in love with her captor because she can see the good in him. She sees the inner beauty and he sees her outer beauty. Let’s turn the tables. If Belle had been overweight and unattractive, would Disney have made the Beast fall for her because of her inner beauty? Disney is teaching young girls that they should love men for who they are, even if they are “beastly” and give everyone an equal chance but women have to be a “beauty” to be loved.
“One day I’ll be part of your world.” The only aspiration the next princess is to completely change herself to be what her man wants her to be. Princess Ariel, The Little Mermaid, is a classic fairytale character that has a very entertaining story. She is a mermaid and she wants to become a human. This is a lovely beginning for a story, until finding out her reasons for wanting to be a human. All she wants is to marry a prince, but he is on land. She goes to the sea queen who trades her voice for legs for three days. She is to share true love’s kiss with her prince before the third day. She asks the sea queen, “Without my voice how will I get him to kiss me?” The sea queen replies, “You have your looks, your pretty face, and don’t underestimate the power of body language.” She is silenced to get a man, literally. Ariel falls into the same perpetuation of men because she falls for Eric based purely on looks. This is Disney drilling girl’s heads that their worth to a man is amounted to how sexually desirable they are.
All of the Disney princesses from the 20th century films encouraged girls to make their biggest goal in life be to find a man, think that all they have to do is be pretty, and rely on others to save them or make their dreams come true. But that is simply not the case with the 21st century Disney Princess movies. There have been four movies: The Princess and the Frog, Tangled, Brave, and Frozen. All of these movies are very different from one another, but the one thing they all have in common in is that the Princesses main goal is not only to find a man. There has been an evolution in what women are expected to be, so Disney has shaped the role model princesses to be what women are supposed to be in society today.
The change started with Tiana, The Frog Princess. She was the first Princess to have a real job, and the first one who had a present birth-mother without a father. Her original goal was to open her own restaurant and run it herself. She accomplishes this goal, and is now an entrepreneur. The prince conforms to her dream rather than her conforming to his, as we have seen previous Disney princesses do. She is the first princess to ever do anything for herself and not for a man, she did end up with a Prince, but he was not her ultimate goal. Women today still want to be married and have a family, but they also now have career goals and an independent life from their spouse. Tiana was the first step to teaching young girls to make an independent life for themselves.
The second step of Disney Princess evolution was Rapunzel. She had a life goal to see the floating lights, which her parents let float every year on her birthday. A thief came through her window while running away from the royal guards, but it was not love at first sight like the old princesses. She knocks him out with her frying pan. This shows young girls that they can protect themselves and no longer have to be submissive. She bargained with him so he would help her, and she saves him multiple times during their journey. They spend time during their adventure falling in love with each other’s minds instead of each other’s bodies. In the end, he does come to her rescue but it was an equal relationship. They both put in effort, and they both deserved each other. This is showing young girls that romantic relationships should be equal rather than submissive. It also is telling girls to marry for love rather than money.
The third step of Disney Princess evolution was Merida. She is an entirely different kind of princess than all of the other Disney Princesses so far. Her goals are to be able to do whatever activities she wants regardless of if they are “female activities” or “male activities.” Most of all, what makes her different is that when she is offered a Prince, she turns it down. She even competes in the competition they have to win her heart, with bows and arrows. She out shoots them (which is a male activity) and wins her own heart.
The movie is entirely based around her mending her relationship with her strict mother rather than a quest for love. It sends the message to young girls that they should marry only if they want to and they can do activities that aren’t considered to be for their gender (such as shooting arrows). This was the first Disney Princess movie that did not end with a romantic relationship blooming. In the new Disney Princess movie, Frozen, the Disney Princesses are in entire new light of representing women and their roles in society. This is the newest development in the evolution of Disney Princesses.
The most recent steps in the evolution of Disney Princesses are Anna and Elsa from Frozen. Anna sets off on a quest to save her sister Elsa. This quest involves no knight in shining armor to save her. Anna meets a young prince at the beginning of the movie, and she thinks she is in love. But, like in real life, this man is not his first impression. He turns out to try to take her throne and kill her sister. When he tries to kill her sister, Anna saves her and gives her own life in return. They show “an act of true love” and it is not romantic. This is a monumental movie for Disney. It has finally overcome it’s obsession with men saving women. This movie is particularly influential for young girls because it promotes familial love instead of romantic love.
Young girls now will see that you can be a strong person without having a man by your side. The more recent Disney Princess films have been encouraging familial love instead of only romantic love. The evolution of Disney Princesses is a symbol of more than just women’s rising equality in the world, but also of the world’s newfound open-mindedness. The media teaches us good and bad things about being a woman through the Disney princesses. What could be next? Perhaps there will be a new princess that is overweight and is learning to be comfortable in her own skin, showing girls that beauty is diverse. Now that women’s place in the world is changing, the Disney princesses are too.