A recent trip to the movie theater to catch The Lion King—back on the big screen, in 3D no less—prompted a post-popcorn discussion about the general merits of Disney. Talk turned to our favorite Disney movies, and then our favorite Disney princesses (I’m partial to Ariel).
The princesses get a lot of crap for promoting general fluffery in young girls—put on a pretty dress, act like a damsel in distress, score prince charming.
I think that’s partly true, but not all princesses are the same, and I think the kick-butt princesses deserve a little separate credit. Let’s take a look with a handy little tally.
Snow White: We’re not really starting with a good example here. She’s the first princess, introduced in 1937, and she doesn’t set much of an example, wandering around the woods and accepting poisoned apples for creepy old women. She’s really dedicated to keeping the house clean, which I can appreciate as a neat freak, but it’s not enough to make the kick-butt-princess cut. -1
Cinderella: At first glance she seems more in the vein of Snow White, but I think she deserves a little more credit. The whole story focuses on going to a ball and marrying a prince, sure, but she doesn’t really go to the ball to snag the prince. Hanging out with royalty is a perk, but marrying Prince Charming’s not really her end game, it’s a just a nice bonus. She’s distraught when her fairy godmother visits, but other than that, she’s generally kept a pretty peppy attitude for somebody in a sucky situation. I don’t think she gets a plus one, but I can’t quite push her into Snow White territory. It’s a wash.
Aurora: It’s been a while since I’ve seen this one, but I remember two scenes in particular: Sleeping Beauty dancing with little woodland creatures while not wearing shoes, and the newly awoken princess dancing at the end of the film with Prince Charming while her fairy godmothers bicker over the color of her dress, making it change while she dances. I remember her looking really stiff in that last scene. I guess we could chalk this up to the limitations of animation, but given how much the plot just sort of happens to her throughout the rest of the film, it makes sense. Love for animals aside, I have to give her a -1.
Ariel: She may seem like an obvious -1: leaves her family and the only world she’s ever known for some guy she just met and gives up her voice in exchange for the non-secure chance to get her man. But she also saves said man from a giant boat fire and really goes after what she wants. And I think she’s just an enamored with life on land as she is with Eric, maybe even more so. I gotta respect that. +1
Belle: She sees through the Beast’s ugly face and outwardly ugly personality, and falls in love with the big teddy bear inside. Also, she has the most awesome library in the history of forever. A big fat +1.
Jasmine: Yes, she’s confined to a palace and just has to grin and bear it with the whole onslaught of ineligible suitors thing, but she doesn’t take any crap from them, and she forcefully but respectfully continues to tell dear old sultan dad that the law about who she’s supposed to marry is crazy. She throws on old clothes and hops the fence, and is willing to really see how the other half lives. She falls in love with a so-called street rat. Oh, and she hangs out with a tiger. Obvious +1.
Pocahontas: Environmentalist, activist, athletic, good hair. +1
Mulan: Have you seen the movie? Girl kicks some serious butt. +1
Tiana: I haven’t seen “The Princess and the Frog,” but I’ve been told she’s really cool, and Wikipedia says she’s an aspiring restaurant entrepreneur, so I’ll take their word for it. +1
Rapunzel: Didn’t see this one either ("Tangeled"). I’m tempted to give it a +1 because it’s Mandy Moore, but I don’t know anything about the plot or character either way, so wash.
OK, so they’ve managed to scrounge up enough points based on my viewings to come out on the plus side of things. Not quite enough points to make the case that the Disney princesses are, in general, awesome role models, but there’s a solid group of standouts.