By Anna Sadovskaya, Managing Arts Editor
Published July 30, 2012
Cinderella had a glass slipper; Snow White had seven dwarfs; I had a Little Mermaid costume. Growing up with the classic Disney princess movies, I imagined my life as a fairytale: I’d have flowing locks, a handsome prince and a talking animal friend. There was something brilliant about the old movies, despite their setbacks.
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No doubt classic Disney movies are steeped in stereotypes and rely on sexist ideals to carry the plot, but considering the time period in which the Fairytale-world backdrop was created, it made sense.
When Disney came out with “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” in 1937, women were the center of a household — supporting their families by keeping a tidy home, raising children and not being wasteful with money. “If you let me stay, I'll keep house for you. I'll wash and sew and sweep and cook … ” says Snow White when the dwarfs find her sleeping in their beds. She automatically concedes to the female role of the 1930s, presenting her usefulness and value through the homemaker personality.
Likewise, released in 1950, “Cinderella” echoed America’s attitude towards women — obedient wives, obedient daughters. Cinderella was a quiet, compliant girl that cleaned and cooked. She was rewarded for her submissive behavior with a Prince — someone to give her a bigger, nicer home to stay in and run.
Both “Sleeping Beauty” and “The Little Mermaid” center around female leads that are seen not heard. Aurora has a total of 18 minutes of screen time in her own film, while Ariel is mute the entirety of her courtship with Prince Eric. Their gift for being amenable is a “true love” that is based entirely off of looks and a five-minute song sequence.
This Fairytale world taught little girls everywhere that with some patience, a lot of cleaning and a calm, subservient personality, they too can get a Prince Charming, a castle and everything their heart desires.
Later, “Beauty and the Beast” and “Mulan” began transforming the stereotypical Fairytale happy ending by focusing on strong, independent women that had more to do than clean a home and make someone’s dinner. Belle had no desire to marry Gaston, the typical alpha male. Mulan would “never pass/ for a perfect bride,/ or a perfect daughter.” They decided that there was more to their lives than finding a husband.
Though those movies begin as a call-to-arms for brave girls, each heroine ends up succumbing to tradition: Belle sacrifices her happiness for her family, choosing imprisonment in order to save her father. Similarly, Mulan dons her father’s armor and takes on the Huns in an effort to preserve her family’s honor. The Fairytale ideal is bent by these princesses, but not necessarily shattered, so Belle and Mulan can exist in a modified version of Fairytale reality.
More recently, Disney has attempted to stay current and politically aware, producing princesses such as Tiana, Rapunzel and Merida: girls that want a destiny outside of marriage. Tiana hopes to own a restaurant and be financially independent, Rapunzel wants to leave her “mother’s” home and find out who she is and Merida wants nothing more than to plan her own life without the constant constraints set by her mother. The three girls all accomplish what they set out to do and they didn’t adhere to the stereotypical Fairytale expectations.
It’s great that girls finally have strong Disney-princess role models. But something is missing. Trying to make Disney princesses politically aware has taken away the charm of the Fairytale world and has made it blatantly clear that Disney is attempting to make amends for the “typical princess outlook.”
Though strong female leads are nothing to be shied away from, it would be best for Disney to leave the Disney princess legacy to the classics: rather than creating new princesses, simply create new outlets and a new world for the independent women to thrive in, rather than clashing the modern with the Fairytale.