From the beginning Disney has evolved in ways no one could imagine. From their animation style to the way they address feminism in their movies. There is no bigger staple within Disney than their trademark princesses. There are eleven princesses who are officially marked as “Disney Princesses” and countless more unofficial princesses. Every little girl growing up had their favorite they wanted to grow up to be just like. But with over seventy-five years between the first Disney princess and the most current, there is an incredible amount of evolution within the stories. Since 1939 how have the princesses been treated differently than today? We’re going to look at how Disney has evolved from Snow White to Moana.
The Beginning, Snow White and The Seven Dwarves: The very first Disney Princess movie released is Snow White and The Seven Dwarves, this movie releases 1938, more than ten years after Disney was founded. But as a company Disney is still very new. Snow White is very reflective of the time period she is released in. It’s a year before WWII would begin and women haven’t even had the right to vote for twenty years yet. This shows in how Snow White is treated like a Damsel the entire film. The idealistic representation of women for the time, she is described as “Having skin white as snow and lips as red a blood.” Even within her own movie, she acts as a passive character. The time this movie is made in is stamped throughout the film.
Sweet and Docile Women, Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty: The next Disney Princess film, Cinderella, doesn’t for twelve more years. It is followed nine years later by Sleeping Beauty. Both of these movies share the common characteristic of having sweet, docile, and shy women as the main characters. These are princesses who exist for the sole purpose of marrying a prince. Strangely, both of these movies share the fact that Cinderella and Aurora aren’t really given a lot of screen time. Within Cinderella’s movie, the animal side characters seem to do more things than Cinderella really does. Although the mice might seem to take front stage in Cinderella, it’s still not as bad as Sleeping Beauty. The main character, Aurora, has only eighteen minutes of screen time in an hour and sixteen minute movie. This is the era of Disney treating female leads like they’re worth less than everyone else.
Okay So She Didn’t Belong To Disney But I Wanted to Put Her on This List, Star Wars A New Hope: Was Leia Organa a Disney Princess during the debut film in 1977? Not really. But she deserves mentioning because of the role she played in establishing Princesses who were very active in their story. Princess Leia, later to become General Leia, gave people everywhere the idea the women were worth a lot more to a story than a pretty face. Until she got stuck in a Slave Bikini several years later…
Disney’s Renaissance, The Little Mermaid, Beauty and The Beast, Aladdin, Pocahontas, and Mulan: It isn’t till 1989 when we see another official Disney Princess movies released. All thirty of these years show up in the treatment of female characters. The practice of making the princesses sweet, docile, and second class citizen is no more. Princesses like Ariel and Mulan are bright and more realistic reflections of women. For one of the first times we see princesses as active characters within their film. Although this is all true, nearly all of the princesses during the Renaissance still live for the sole purpose of seeking out their prince. Disney has advanced heavily since the dark ages, but still has a long way to go from here.
A Series of Unfortunate Sequels and A Bright Crystal, Atlantis The Lost Empire: Because of the amazing revival Disney experienced, it was a real shame when the only official Disney Princess movies made were half-hearted sequels. The second and even third of a lot of Disney Princess films tended to have a far lower budget, and didn’t always retain their original cast. But within this era there was one less than official Princess gem. Atlantis The Lost Empire brought an extremely important princess forward. Kida, the daughter of the Atlantean king, was as spunky as she was independent. And although she wasn’t the main character, she still stole viewers hearts.
Jumping Into the Twenty-First Century, The Princess Frog and Tangled: Tangled and The Princess Frog are the first official princess movies of the twenty-first century. As the new century begins, there are high expectations on Disney. Disney truly delivered with first the 2009 release of the Princess Frog, and then the 2010 release of Tangled. Tiana, the main character of The Princess Frog, is also the first woman of color to appear as a Disney Princess. She brings in a tide of a woman wanting something other than a main as their story. Pursuing her dreams, Tiana shows that what you work for doesn’t always have to be a man. This dream theme is continued with Rapunzel in Tangled. Although her dreams are simpler than Tiana’s, Rapunzel still shows that life shouldn’t be lived completely for a man.
Disney Broke the Mold, Brave: Brave is where Disney took a sharp turn into something completely new, completely different, and completely a huge step in the advancement of feminism. Merida is a little crude, fiesty, and full of vibrancy. So it is a wonderful step for Disney to make this story not about a romance at all. The movie is revolved around a different kind of relationship, that of a mother and a daughter. This is one of the first time Disney did not give a princess a love interest.
A New Type of Leader, Moana: The most recent of Disney Princess, Moana was released in 2016. This is the first time since Mulan that a Princess movie has been named after the main character. Moana is a thrill seeker with a love of her home and leadership skills that arguably haven’t appeared in other Princesses. She represents the idea of fighting for what you love, and that doesn’t always mean a man.
From humble beginnings to booming current times, Disney Princesses has evolved heavily since the beginning. Princesses have gone from being barely relevant in their own films, to fully developed characters with their own thoughts and interests. Although Disney has made some very hard fumbles within the area of feminism, they continue to steadily advance. Nearly every new Princess film they produce is brings a new facet of feminism to the surface. Hopefully, with every new Princess film we see in the future, Disney will continue to evolve.