The late nineties to early 2000s generation was significantly shaped by The Walt Disney Co.’s princess movies, eagerly watched by young parents and their tiny tots. These stories have evolved significantly over the years.
The earlier princess movies such as “Snow White,” “Cinderella” or “Sleeping Beauty” portray the princesses as damsels in distress. They have to be saved by the prince, whether it is by being awakened by their stupor with a true love’s kiss or by being tracked by the prince with a glass slipper as his only guide. These movies were made many decades ago but shaped many young girls’ childhood by reinforcing the problematic notion that if you found yourself in a bind, keep hope, because your knight in shining armor would come through.
Later releases such as “The Little Mermaid,” “Beauty and the Beast,” “Aladdin” and “Mulan” served as a breath of fresh air with strong, curious, female role models. Whether it was Ariel’s yearning to explore a new world or Belle’s love for education, it was clear that these movies were evolving from the one-dimensional characterization of princesses. Meanwhile, the inclusion of women of other races, such as Jasmine and Mulan, was refreshing to see.
Problems still continued in terms of the unrealistic ways in which the bodies of these princesses were drawn or the whitewashing of the princesses of color. And, yet again, the overall goal was true love. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but there did not seem to be any other path to happiness.
However, things are changing, and it’s for the better. The recent crop of animated princesses that have followed serve to be good, independent, self-sufficient role models. Princesses such as Moana and Merida all follow their own story arc; their happy endings are not tied to another person.
Besides, society is rapidly changing, and with it, the portrayal of animated princesses. The biggest takeaway should be that these movies served as a big part of our childhood. They can continue being enjoyed, as long as we teach young girls that the ultimate happy ending is discovering your own individuality, regardless of the perfect dress, the perfect crown, the perfect castle or the perfect prince!