Consider every Disney princess movie you have watched. How many of them portray the young female protagonist as the girl you want your daughter or other important young woman in your life to look up to?
I made mention to my parents that I felt the most recent Disney princess movie, Frozen, was overrated and my dad instantly retorted, “You just don’t want to admit you like a kids’ movie.” However this isn’t the case. As a young woman about the age of the female characters portrayed in the Disney princess films and a big sister to a six-year-old, I want more from Disney princess movies.
Frozen is a great movie, with beautiful music, but I am not thrilled that my little sister and many other young girls idolize Princess Anna. Anna, the younger sister to Elsa in Frozen, is portrayed as naïve. She falls in love with the first man she meets and by the end of the movie has already found the man she wants to live happily-ever-after with. Meanwhile, throughout most of the movie the character of her older, more responsible sister Elsa is almost villainous.
There are two truly sweet parts of Frozen for me that are worthy of attention. In the beginning when the two sisters are playing together the audience is introduced to two girls who have a special relationship. This scene, when the sisters are bonding in the snow created by Elsa’s powers, is sweet and sets the movie up to be more about sisterhood than romance, but this theme doesn’t last long. While there is an underlying theme of sisterhood throughout, it is overshadowed by the adventure and romance between Anna and Kristoff for most of the movie. We don’t see the importance of the sisters’ love for one another brought up again until the end of the movie when it is the love of Anna’s sister and not the love of a man that warms her heart.
A few weeks ago browsing Facebook I came across an article shared from Seventeen Magazine called “The Definitive Ranking of Disney Princesses from Distressed Damsels to most Kickass,” and I started thinking about the order of my own ranking of Disney princesses. I did not completely agree with their lineup, but my lineup criterion was more specific than simply “kick ass” princesses.
Although I have not watched some of the Disney princess movies in quite some time, I can remember from my own childhood how I viewed the Disney princesses then versus how I see them now. The princesses that stand out as most “kick ass” to me are those that I could watch with my little sister and know she can take something away from the character that is in some way useful to her life and doesn’t encourage her to go into this world looking merely for romance. I want my little sister to feel encouraged to take this world by storm in the best way possible, and to do the things that make her truly happy as an independent woman.
A part of her may always long to be a ballerina as she does at the age of six, and perhaps one day she will grace the stage. However, as the dream of being a ballerina diminishes with age for some girls, I hope that she will not feel discouraged to pursue whatever her heart desires in this world, and that the women that she sees portrayed on the movie screen have a part in that. I do not expect every princess movie to possess all of these themes at once and I would not tell any child or their parent to steer clear of Disney princess movies altogether, but I would like to see more Princess Meridas (Brave) and fewer Princess Annas.
The Top Five Disney Princesses for Real-World Girls
1. Merida, Brave: Merida has a strained relationship with her mother, Elinor, who wants her to embrace tradition and get married. Looking for any way to make her mother understand, Merida asks a witch to change Elinor, but instead of changing her mind the spell changes her mother into a bear. The mother-daughter team goes on an adventure to change her back and in the process their relationship is changed.
Family is one of the most important aspects of a young girl’s life, and while female friendships will constantly change, a mother is a forever friend. Not only does Brave show the importance of family, it shows that not every princess has to be prim and proper. Merida is a down-to-earth character who has interests in archery and horseback riding and her spunky personality is relatable to many young girls.
2. Mulan, Mulan: In this movie we are introduced to a young woman who is considered not good enough for a man, and yet by the end of the movie she has saved her country. Mulan is faced with a difficult situation, in which she chooses to save her father from war, despite the rule in her country that women cannot be in the military.
Yes, Mulan has a love interest in this princess movie, but her relationship to him is not what defines the movie. Mulan’s ability to show strength and bravery and learn to have faith in herself is what defines this movie and that is a message worthy of being passed on to young girls.
3. Tiana, The Princess and the Frog: In this film, young waitress Tiana has a knack for cooking and dreams of opening her own restaurant. She meets a prince who was turned into a frog and he convinces her to kiss him in exchange for the money to open her own restaurant. But after Tiana kisses him she too turns into a frog and the two go on an adventure through Louisiana to find the witch who can turn them back.
This classic fairytale adaption shows a girl with ambition and work ethic. Tiana has found her calling as a talented cook and dreams of turning it into a successful business.
4. Elsa, Frozen: Elsa is a young woman struggling with the fact that she is different, and looking to find her place in the world as the unique woman that she is. After turning her home into an eternal winter she secludes herself from everyone in order to save them from being hurt. Her younger sister Anna goes on an adventure to find her and bring her back, end the eternal winter and be queen. However in the process Elsa turns Anna’s heart to ice and only she can save Anna.
Although Elsa is portrayed as somewhat villainous in most of this movie, her character should be the one girls look to rather than Anna’s. Elsa, like any young girl, is finding herself and what her role is in the world.
5. Belle, Beauty and the Beast: A smart young girl finds her father imprisoned by a beast and offers to stay in his place. The beast does not seem to be a kind creature at first but soon Belle learns to look past his monstrous appearance and see that he has a heart. The two fall in love and the spell that had turned the once handsome prince into a beast is broken.
At first Belle can only see the monster, and can’t see past his appearance to the kind handsome prince lying within. This story defies the norm. Instead of a prince saving her, Belle saves him and they both learn to love with their heart in the process.
There are several other great princesses out there, too. You may notice that these Disney princesses are fairly recent, and this may be because Disney sees that they have great power in the lives of children and that the role of women in society has changed. There will always be love stories that influence young girls, magazines that portray unrealistic images, and even a struggle for women to earn what they are worth in the workplace, but perhaps if more young girls are introduced to kick ass characters like those above rather than the damsels, they will feel empowered as women in today’s society.
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