I’ve seen Disney’s latest film Frozen with my kids twice now, and I’m rather pleased with the progress they have made in presenting realistic female characters.
Disney doesn’t exactly have a history of being socially progressive. Most of their films, especially from the earlier days, are filled with racist caricatures.
Aside from Mickey Mouse, Disney’s most well-known films are their Disney princesses. Most of the early ones aren’t exactly independent women.
- Snow White: She does housekeeping for a household of dwarves before falling into a coma, until some passing prince gives her a kiss.
- Sleeping Beauty: Aurora sleeps through a large part of the movie, until some adventurous prince comes to rescue her.
- Cinderella: A house slave, who meets a prince who can’t remember what she looks like, but has one of her shoes.
- The Little Mermaid: Ariel literally changes who she is, giving up her precious voice in order to be closer to her prince.
- Beauty and the Beast: Belle domesticates her prince, because we can’t have someone with beastly behaviour.
- Aladdin: Most of the plot revolves around who Jasmine is allowed to marry.
- Pocahontas: the colonization of the New World, where a romantic involvement is created between the historic figures of Pocahontas and John Smith.
Some of the more recent films are better, in particular Tangled and Brave. But even there, there are problems. In Brave, the main disagreement and inciting incident revolves around Merida’s choice in marriage. While she remains single, it is a primary source of conflict in the film.
With two young daughters, many of these films are problematic, not the least of which is their cultural influence. A few of these films I’ve never shown my kids, and probably won’t until they’re much older.
The latest Disney film, Frozen, really ups the game. While there are other important characters, the movie is really about the relationship between two sisters, Elsa and Anna.