The Evolved Feminism of Disney Princesses

A/N: Okay, this is the very first Academic Essay I’ve put out to the world to see.

The title is pretty self-explanatory, and it’s basically a comparison of the feministic qualities found in Snow White, Belle and Elsa. 


“Within a month, Daisy threw a tantrum, when I tried to wrestle her into pants. As if by osmosis she had learned the names and gown colours of every Disney Princess… She gazed longingly into the tulle-draped windows of the local toy stores and for her third birthday begged for a ‘real princess dress’ with matching plastic high heels” (Orenstein).

Unsurprisingly this representative of a little girl’s adoration for Disney is merely one of many examples, which concerns the popularity of the Disney Princesses, whom are idealized by millions of young girls, and, probably, boys, across the globe. They are in control of monumental impact and influence. One of these influences deals with feminism.

What does the media of Disney teach little girls about what implementations there are to be female? The feminism in the media of the Disney princesses has evolved through the decades, which can be assessed through an analysis of the movies of only three selected Disney princesses; Snow White, Belle and Elsa.

This analysis will centre around the ambitions, abilities and love lives of the three princesses.

In Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, 1937 Snow White, a princess, is despised for her beauty by her evil step mother, who attempts to kill her. She is eventually saved by a prince and true love’s first kiss.

Belle, a bibliophile girl from Beauty and the Beast, claims her father’s place as a captive, and ends up in love with the hideous beast.

And finally Elsa, who are introduced to the viewers of Disney media in the movie Frozen, and who is terrified of her own supernatural powers, and frightened of the reaction of the society surrounding her. Both she and the rest of her kingdom eventually accept both her and her abilities.

These three examples will demonstrate the monumental evolution through the decades of the feminism found in the media of Disney princesses.

Snow White from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs is by many considered the classical princess – she was certainly Disney’s first – and the ambitions of Snow White is manifested clearly throughout the movie.

Someday my Prince will come,” is doubtlessly not only one of the most illustrious quotes from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, and one that nearly every little girl is familiar with, but also the quote which clarify the desires and ambitions of the young princess, repeated twice during the movie; first in the beginning, where she dedicates an entire musical composition to it, and finally close to the end, where she requests for a Prince while she bites down into the iconic poisonous apple.

Some may argue that is would appear more logical to wish for safety or even retaliation against the Evil Queen, and her requests for a Prince display an immature deficiency of priorities. Her desire for a prince does not merely illustrate that her strongest ambition in life is to find love, through a Prince, but it also proves that her ambitions does not change throughout the movie as she should have developed as a character.

But while the ambitions of Snow White can hardly classify as feminist, she can certainly be in possession of other values and abilities, which can prove as a positive feminist influence over young girls. However, during the movie we mostly witness Snow White sing, cook, talk with animals or have them help her clean for the dwarves, while she sings the tune Whistle While You Work.

Though she is to a certain degree capable of controlling animals, an ability, which for most appears as impressive, she does not even contemplate to utilize it to defend herself against the Huntsman, when he tries to kill her; thereby Snow White does not make use of her abilities and talent, when they are at their most necessary. With the exception of her ability to talk with animals, Snow White’s abilities are all ones, which are commonly associated with an ideal woman in a patriarch society, which thereby goes against the thought process and philosophy behind feminism.

According to the book Princess Cultures “Feminist critics had derided Walt’s princesses for their passivity, arguing that Snow White… taught little girls to wait patiently for a prince to rescue them from their problems rather than going out and find happiness themselves” (Forman-Brunell, 31).

In the movie Snow White instantly falls in love with the Prince in disregard to the fact that she has never had an actualized conversation with him. Through some may argue that Snow White is never really in love with a person, but rather the sentiment of being in love. Despite this the Prince’s kiss awakens her from a cursed sleep supposedly only cured by True Love’s Kiss.

“If Feminist Theory can be used to read Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs as a straight-forward reflection of society at that time, then it stands to reason that future representations of female characters will grow more complex as women’s roles in society do so. This certainly seems to be the case with 1991’s Beauty and the Beast. The film… appeared to usher in a new era of female characters with its central protagonist: Belle.” (Ball)

Belle certainly has contrastive ambitions in comparison with Snow White’s. Belle’s ambitions are manifested in the beginning of the movie Beauty and the Beast during the musical composition Little Town. Rather than to yearn for love, Belle yearns for adventures and excitement. During the piece Madame Gaston she expresses that she desires adventures in the great white somewhere.

“Beauty and the Beast (1991) also offered an updated heroine: Instead of being obsessed with romance, Belle was obsessed with reading and had strength and aspirations that were absent from the original fairy tale” (Ball) Rather than merely being beautiful, Belle is considered well-read and intelligent. She has devoured every single book in the local book shop. Her knowledge and love for books are part of the reason she is considered odd by the town people, who calls her a beauty, but a funny girl.

She also stands out concerning love. She still dreams of a Prince Charming. During the song Little Town she states that her preferred part of her favourite book is when the protagonist meets Prince Charming.

But when the most sought-after man of the village Gaston display interest, she is utterly repulsed by the mere notion of becoming his wife. Though he is considered handsome, he is also shallow and a male chauvinist. He makes it more than clear that he only wants to marry Belle for her beauty. He remarks to his follower LeFou that in this town it is only Belle, who is as beautiful as himself. His chauvinistic characteristics manifest clearly, when he tells Belle that it is about time that she got her head out of those books and paid attention to more important things. Like him.

He also states that it is not right for a woman to read. Soon she will start to get ideas and think. But Belle is vehement in her desire not to bind herself in matrimony with Gaston. Instead she ends up in love with a hideous beast, whom Belle in the song Something There defines as coarse and unrefined, but later on as sweet and unsure of himself. Thereby Belle can be considered a representation of why one should choose someone from who they are on the inside rather from purely based on physical appearance.

The ambitions of Elsa from the movie Frozen are once again extremely contrastive from the ambitions of Snow White, which consists of love, and the ambitions of Belle, which are adventures. Elsa desires for acceptance. An ambition, which has catastrophic consequences when it leads her to repress her abilities, which results in a burst of power, which covers the entire land in ice and snow.

Elsa is also far more human and prone to mistakes than the earlier Disney princesses.

“Elsa is given opportunities to make mistakes that Disney Princesses have not been given in the past. Elsa often feels threatened, codes the world as black and white, and runs into trouble a number of times because of her ambiguous moral compass. Elsa shows herself willing to murder to protect her heightened sense of self-preservation.” (Feder)

Thereby Elsa is one of the most three-dimensional characters we have in the universe of Disney Princesses. Imperfect and flawed, and yet inherently a good person.

She also stands out concerning abilities. While the more classical princesses are often expected to be about inner strength – Snow White’s innate goodness or Belle’s intelligence – Elsa has an ability for raw, physical power. She is able to control one of the elements, and uses this power to protect not only herself, but also the people, whom she love.

After Merida from Brave, Elsa is also the first princess – technically queen – who does not end up with her own Prince Charming. In fact neither the opportunity or the yearning for one manifest throughout the entire movie. Instead she states that you can not marry someone you have just met.

Elsa’s love if solely centred on her sister Anna, and this is clearly shown when the classic True Love’s Kiss, which in Frozen is portrayed as a True Love’s Act, occurs between two sisters rather than the protagonist princess and her love interest.

Shira Feder argues that “Frozen… differentiates itself from past princess films and slams the door on the concept of “perfect princess,” superficial romance, needing a prince, and the morally perfect hero.” (Feder)

Elsa has no need for Prince Charming. Her change throughout the movie deals with Elsa’s growing realisation that she does not have to be perfect, which is with great success shown in the iconic song Let It Go.

In conclusion these three examples assess the evolved nature of the Disney princess. She has gone through the state of the domestic housewife, the curious adventurer and, finally, the independent woman.

These changes can be compared to the changes, which took place in society during the time the respective movies were first viewed in the movie theatres across the world. In the thirties during the first viewing of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs it was still the norm for the woman to stay at home, watch after the children and have dinner at the table, when the man came home.

In comparison we can find the adventurous career-woman of the nineties, and the independent female of the current millennia. Even her status from princess to queen has evolved.

Disney follows in the footstep of these changes with not only the personality of the princesses, but also their ambitions, their abilities and their relations to men. Disney goes from a damsel in distress to a curious teenager, before they end up with a powerful, yet in many ways insecure, young woman.

The evolved inner working of the Disney princess can also be seen in the children, who replicate them. Suddenly little dreams are dreaming less about men and more about having magical powers, and even little boys dress up at Elsa (James).

These changes display the importance Disney media can have on the millions of adoring children, who often find their role models in the Disney franchise.

Works Cited

Balls, Jackson. ‘The Evolving Princess: The Progressive Feminism in Disney Films: Part Two – Beauty and the Beast’. February 6, 2014. Web.

Beauty and the Beast. Dir. Gary Trousdale. Perf. Paige O’Hara, Robby Benson and Jesse Corti. Disney, 1991. Film.

Brave. Dir. Mark Andrews. Perf. Kelly MacDonald, Billy Connolly and Emma Thompson. Disney and Pixar, 2012. Film.

Feder, Shira. ‘COLLEGE FEMINISM: Slamming the Door: An Analysis of Else (Frozen)’. October 16, 2014. Web.

Forman-Brunell, Miriam, et al. Princess Cultures: Meditating girls’ imaginations & identities. New York: Peter Lang Publishing, Inc., 2015. Print.

Frozen. Dir. Chris Buck. Perf. Kristen Bell, Idina Menzel and Jonathan Groff. Disney, 2013. Film.

James, Emily. ‘Doting dad praises his three-year-old son’s decision to dress up as Elsa from Frozen for Halloween – and reveals he is planning to dress up like Princess Anna’. October 7, 2015. Web.

Orenstein, Peggy. Excerpt: Cinderella Ate My Daughter‘. February 3, 2011. Web.

Snow White and Seven Dwarfs. Dir. William Cottrell. Perf. Adriana Caselotti, Harry Stockwell and Lucille La Verne. Disney, 1937. Film.

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