Thursday, May 27, 2010

Strong inside but you don’t know it, good little girls they never show it.

Disney princesses – or leading ladies of Disney films in general – all have, without failure, the gift of radiant beauty. From Snow White’s skin so white and lips so red that the Queen feels the need to do her off, Cinderella’s neat blonde hairdo and svelte figure to Ariel’s eye-catching red hair and seashell bra that leaves nothing to the imagination, Disney females have are all without fail, beautiful, no matter what their hair or eye colour, face shape or character. However, in the three that I’ve mentioned are also noticeable character flaws, or even lack of character whatsoever. Snow White is guileless and child-like to a point where she accepts food from strangers The counter argument that she is just a child seems empty if we consider that at the end of the film she goes off with a man much older than her, so either Disney accepts she’s dumb, or they accept they’re basically administering paedophilia to young kids. Either way, they’ve gone wrong somewhere. Cinderella is the epitome of the beleaguered lady who is mistreated by all those around her, but thankfully, she’s pretty, so she catches the eye of the Prince. And being absent minded and losing a shoe? Well, she’s pretty, and she seems to have a remarkable sized food that no-one else in the kingdom has, so that’ll work to her advantage too. As for Ariel, she sacrifices her one gift – her voice, abandons her family and her roots to pursue the man she’s had her eye on. These three women don’t really say much for feminism, truth be told.
Luckily, it isn’t all that way. There are a few Disney females who I was genuinely inspired by, and rooting for throughout, rather than gnashing my teeth at. Here they are:-

Jasmine (Aladdin, 1992)
Being the sultan’s daughter should, in theory, be the sweet life. But not for Jasmine, who feels repressed and cloistered. Whereas previous Disney films had centred around the princess, Jasmine is but a secondary character to Aladdin. But that doesn’t make her inferior in terms of strength of personality, not at all. Standing up to her father and refusing to marry someone she doesn’t love is one thing, but her lack of interest in class or marrying for money is completely inspirational, particularly in this sad day and age, where women will happily plump for a footballer husband who cheats on them as long as they get fancy things. My only lament about Jasmine is that we don’t find out enough about her, and her backstory. For example, she doesn’t seem to have any female friends in the film, and one can’t help but wonder why.

Megara (Hercules, 1997)
From one loner to another. Megara has actually done the whole “giving up her life for a man” thing, quite literally in fact, when she sold her soul to Hades in order to settle a debt her then boyfriend had with him. Sadly for her, he left her as soon as a hotter model came along, leading her tied to the devil, and feeling jaded and disillusioned with men. Meg is by all intents and purposes more of a “woman of the world” compared to other Disney females, but by being older and wiser, she makes for a more relatable and watchable characters.
Armed with a whole arsenal of sarcastic put-downs, it’s no wonder that Hercules becomes so fascinated with her (interestingly, it is he who is the more “feminine” of the two in his innocent ways). And, for all the obvious beauties of Aurora and Cinderella, Meg’s feistiness and sassiness gives her a kind of swagger that makes her, for me, the sexiest Disney character.

Mulan (Mulan, 1998)
Although depicted to be clumsy dolt and constantly speaking without thinking at the start, there’s no denying she has a fierce fire inside her. This fire is unleashed when the Emperor calls for a man from every family to fight for their country. There are no other men in Mulan’s family apart from her dad (she hasn’t a brother), but her father is ill and frail. Despite her protestations, he insists that “it’s my place. It’s time you learnt yours.” Any inferior Disney princess would accept that as a queue to munch into another apple or lie in a bed and sleep until their prince comes, but not for Mulan. Shedding her lustrous locks and donning the less-than-flattering soldier’s uniform, she disguises herself as Ping, her father’s “Son”. At the start she is less-than-convincing, though her ineptitude as a soldier is partially disguised by the blunderings of all those around her. But as time goes by, she cements her place as one of the best and most loyal fighters and catches the eye of the General leading them. Resourceful, brave, and with a never-say-die spirit that many Disney princes could do with, Mulan is a film that makes me proud to be Chinese, and Mulan a character that makes me proud to be a woman.

Tiana (The Princess and the Frog, 2009)
Tiana isn’t actually a princess, only mistaken for one (she is in fact a poor girl working as many jobs as she can, determined to reach her dream of owning a restaurant). And she and Prince Naveen don’t even get off to a good start. Both characters have their flaws; Naveen is a hedonistic, selfish brat and Tiana is the opposite, so hard-working she barely pauses for breath, and in doing so occasionally comes off as judgemental, and has no time for any of that namby pamby “romance” stuff. However, she is also inventive and clever, and it is mainly thanks to her wits that she and Naveen manage to survive so long, never mind at all, as frogs. Both characters grow up and change through the course of the film, and it is this mutual understanding and friendship which builds between them that makes their romance so moving, as opposed to carbon copy “HE SAW HER AND WAS SPELLBINDED BY HER BEAUTY” of the 50s and 60s Disney films.

So that’s me. Who are your favourite Disney gals?



Katie said...

Great entry Emma! I'd put Belle from Beauty and the Beast in the same category.

Simon said...

Meg's my girl, okay? She's the only one I don't have a compulsive need to slap in the face.

Emma said...

Haha, alright, you can have her, but only 'cos it's you ;) x

Andrew K. said...

Simon get your hands off! Meg is mine!!! (I reviewed Hercules like two days ago mentioning what a different sort of Disney woman she was). Or I'll take Jasmine then (is she hottest animated character?)

I'd make a case for Ariel though, it's not so much her giving up her voice for a man, she was at the end of the rope with her father and she really just wanted legs.

Just a girl said...


I also LOVE this post, I am definitely going to have to write one in reply with a more thoughtful answer :)