Disney’s leading ladies take on 21st Century ideals

The dashing prince in a shining suit of heavy armor races toward the angry gnashing jaws of a vengeful beast, his agile body ready to pounce with the glittering double-edged sword in his hands held at the ready. His feet glide in slow motion and in a flash, the prince has perfectly pierced the heart of the wretched monster. Out comes the sword and to the petrified princess the hero runs. With an honest look of pure adoration followed by a passionate kiss of true love, the two are reunited in a heart-warming, fervent embrace. Then, of course, they live happily ever after.

Walt Disney Studios, known for its well-acclaimed and family-oriented classics, has been the ideal source of such a scenario. Formulaic storylines and one-dimensional characters defined the studio’s earliest films (think Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, etc.) and are part of the reason why they have become such classics.

In more recent years, though, Disney films like MulanThe Princess and the Frog, Brave, and Frozen, in which the idea of a perfect ‘prince charming’ is considered unrealistic and irrational, have challenged the studio’s original damsel-in-distress story lines and offer a glimpse into the rise of its newly empowered, independent, and perfectly imperfect leading ladies.

Sophomore Dara Hall is one of many teenagers who grew up with Disney films and has noticed this change.

“[The girls in Disney movies] are not so vulnerable and they’re not so gullible,” Hall said. “They go their own way; they don’t let anybody else influence them.”

It’s not just teens that have noticed the change; guidance counselor Dawn Walls has seen, and approves of, the new ladies of Disney.

“They are more independent than they were [before],” Walls said. “I like the idea of a woman in charge…Anna is definitely a good role model for young girls.”

A prime example of this great turning point in the role of Disney’s female characters is Mulan, the original Disney warrior woman. She wasn’t the very first of her kind in the film industry but definitely represented a huge leap from Disney’s first 1937 production of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. Her strength and independence served as a paradigm for future female leads in several Disney productions that followed such as Brave.

“Most princesses nowadays are less dependent on guys and their roles are more diverse,” sophomore Serra Vu said. “Like in Brave, [Merida] just wants to be an archer and everybody thinks that she’d be all feminine and everything but she’s not.”

According to Hall, in Disney’s most recent production, Frozen, this same image of a strong, independent, female lead with great depth and character can be seen once again in both of the main characters, sisters Elsa and Anna.

“[Elsa] went off to her own way and she like made a life for herself,” Hall said. “She was not letting anybody get in her way.”

Junior Son Doan agrees.

“Before it used to be the prince or something that would fight,” Doan said. “But now, like with Elsa, she has powers and she does the fighting in the movie and the guys are pretty much useless.”

At the same time, though, sophomore Serra Vu has noticed that despite how independent and strong-willed they may be, these girls make sure they know when to accept a little help.

“I like how it shows independence but at the same time it also lets people know that you can’t solve all your problems by yourself,” Vu said.

Long gone is the perfectly groomed mane and gracefully executed stride of Princess Aurora, Snow White, and Cinderella. According to Vu, to Disney’s new leading ladies, being imperfect is the new perfect.

“It draws away from how most princesses were described before like with Cinderella and [the other princesses].”  Vu said. “They were all described as perfect and most kids or teenagers want perfect but they see now that not everybody can be perfect.”

In addition to proving to be better role models than their predecessors, Hall believes that Disney’s new leading ladies show young adults that individuality is something that should be flaunted and not hidden by fear.

“I like it because there is a lot of diversity with the characters,” Hall said. “It’s good because it’s showing children that they can express whoever they are without being judged. The characters each have their own parts of them that make them who they are and it shows kids that they can be whoever they want.”