Some of the first films many of us are introduced to as kids are in the Disney animated library. Many of these movies have come under fire for their portrayal of female characters.
Critics claim the princesses were all boring flat characters who do nothing but wait for a handsome prince to save them and then instantly fall in love and marry them. Especially in regard to the classic films.
By classic I mean the films made before the seventies. Many people feel that young girls should be introduced to stronger role models. While these criticisms are valid I think people tend to use them too broadly. They ignore the positive aspect of the characters or ignore the interesting female characters. If you would go back and watch some of the old movies, you might be surprised at the range of some of the Disney’s characters.
Cinderella is unfairly picked on. I do think Cinderella is a bit bland in terms of personality, and I do roll my eyes at her and the prince getting married after one date night. But she isn’t saved by the prince, she’s saved by the mice. Why? Because she is nice to the mice. This may not seem like a big deal, but take a closer look. The Cinderella story is, at its core, a story about karma.
Cinderella is rewarded for her kindness. This is important because she stays kind despite her environment. Look at how she is treated by Lady Tremaine and her daughters. That scene where they completely destroy her dress is heartbreaking. How easy would it have been for that abuse to turn Cinderella into someone angry and bitter? But she doesn’t. Everyone in their life has a Lady Tremaine whether it be a teacher, a boss or a relative. Cinderella shows us that we don’t have to become them to deal with them.
One overlooked female character is never saved by a prince or is passive. Alice from “Alice in Wonderland” is a bold character who tries to use her wits to get out of the difficult situations she finds herself in. The humor of the film comes from Alice applying logic to a world that has none. She journeys on her own clear defined goal, to get home. She’s not defined by her relationship with others.
“Sleeping Beauty” is a strange case as it contains both the strongest and most interesting female characters and the weakest female in Disney canon. The titular sleeping beauty, Aurora, is every negative Disney princess stereotype come to life. She has zero personality and she falls in love after one dance. At least Cinderella had a night to fall in love. She is more of a prop for the heroes and villain. Who are the heroes? The good fairies Flora, Fauna and Merryweather are funny, resourceful and the ones with the actual goals. They’re even the ones to defeat the villain.
These films and characters aren’t perfect. But it’s the total passive saved by the prince that many people like to paint them as.
They have problems like any movie made over half a century ago, but it’s okay to acknowledge the good while still condemning the bad. It’s important to see what worked in the past, the compassion, the cleverness and the boldness so we can get it right in the future.