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Aladdin

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Aladdin is a strange movie to discuss in the context of Disney Princesses. Unless I’ve forgotten something, it’s the only official Disney Princess movie where the princess isn’t the protagonist. In fact, although she has a couple of scenes without Aladdin, Jasmine’s role in the movie isn’t that significant, and she’s absent for many of the important scenes. But I think it’s interesting to look at how Disney treats its female characters when they’re not the protagonist of the story.

And it looks like Disney put a lot of effort into giving Jasmine “girl power” and independence, at least in her dialogue and attitude. Unfortunately, they didn’t follow through and give her strength in the plot itself.

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Beauty and the Beast

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Beauty and the Beast is the ultimate “not like other girls” Disney movie.

Make no mistake, the animation and the music are gorgeous, Belle is a great character, and the dynamic between Belle and Gaston gives us some interesting scenes. But although Belle is intelligent and ambitious and wanting adventure, she’s explicitly set up as being different because of it. She doesn’t fit in, because nobody else she knows could possibly also like reading, or dreaming, or want their life to come to something.

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The Little Mermaid

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I may be a tiny bit biased when it comes to The Little Mermaid. This was my favorite movie as a child. I would sing Part of Your World at the top of my lungs and carry my Ariel doll around with me and recreate the dramatic “emerging from the ocean” moment in the bath… it was a pretty big deal to me.

So when The Little Mermaid comes under fire for being one of the most “anti-feminist” Disney princess movies, I take it a little bit personally. The movie that they criticize is not the movie that I remember adoring. Although I’ve written before about how Ariel is a great protagonist, and how these criticisms are off-base, I felt some trepidation about rewatching the movie and writing about it again. I didn’t think I was wrong, but what if I was?

And did I find the movie to be all I remembered? Well… yes and no. People are wrong to criticize Ariel as an “anti-feminist” protagonist, and the first two thirds of the movie are fantastic to watch. But as we approach the movie’s conclusion, things start to fall apart.

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Sleeping Beauty

This article is part of a series looking at Disney princess movies, from the first to the latest, to see whether they are as “anti-feminist” as some might claim.

  • Bechdel pass: yes
  • Number of female characters: 6
  • Goals: To marry her true love; to protect the princess; to kill the princess
  • Lesson: Don’t leave the evil witch out of your birthday party

As I’m think many many people have discussed before, Sleeping Beauty isn’t really about Sleeping Beauty. It’s difficult to critique the way a Disney Princess is presented when she only has about 10 minutes of screen time and doesn’t say a word for the entire second half. There’s a reason that there’s no Sleeping Beauty 2 — Aurora doesn’t have enough of a character to support it.

Opinions will differ on whether or not this is a bad thing. While there isn’t time for her to show depth and character development, there isn’t really time for her to be “anti-feminist” either. She’s mostly an excuse for the rest of the plot to happen… and that plot, in a first (and possibly last?) for Disney, is driven by three older female characters.

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Peter Pan

This article is part of a series looking at Disney princess movies, from the first to the latest, to see whether they are as “anti-feminist” as some might claim.

Bechdel Pass: Yes
Number of female characters: 4, plus assorted mermaids and a dog.
Female characters’ goals: not to grow up.
Lesson: Mothers are important.

OK, I know that Peter Pan isn’t a Disney princess movie. But I wanted to give this a try, since Tinkerbell is Disney’s other big commercial character aimed at young girls.

Which is odd, since Tinkerbell is probably the most sexualised Disney character I’ve ever seen.

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Cinderella

This article is part of a series looking at Disney princess movies, from the first to the latest, to see whether they are as “anti-feminist” as some might claim.

  • Bechdel pass: Yes
  • Number of female characters: 5, plus mice.
  • Female characters’ goals: to be happy; to marry the prince; to marry her daughters to the prince.
  • Lesson: Believe in your dreams, and they will come true.

I was surprised by how much I enjoyed watching Cinderella. It is a traditional fairy tale, made in the early 1950s, and so it is hardly a tale of female rebellion and independence. But not every worthwhile female character has to be Mulan, and despite her traditionalism, Cinderella has many strengths of her own.

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Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

This is the first in a new series looking at Disney princess movies, from the first to the latest, to see whether they are as “anti-feminist” as some might claim.

  • Bechdel pass: No
  • Number of female characters: 2
  • Female characters’ goals: to marry her true love; to be the fairest
  • Lesson: if you are good and sweet and beautiful and pure, your evil stepmother will probably still poison you… but a handsome prince will swing by to rescue you.

When it was released in 1937, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was intended for adults.

We really should consider it the same way today. Partly because the Witch scared me so much as a child that this is the first time I’ve ever watched the whole movie from start to finish. But mostly because the movie is incredibly set in its era. As the world’s first cel-animated film, it is culturally significant, and the animation is gorgeous, but the optimistic side of me thinks that young children will be bored by the old-fashioned film. Either way, it is chock-a-block full of every negative Disney Princess stereotype you can imagine.

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