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#GirlBoss Disney: Princesses for Profit

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.

It seems like every other year Disney announces a new live-action remake of their older classics. From Beauty and the Beast to the upcoming and highly anticipated Little Mermaid adaptation, the children’s mass media company has entered an era of self-awareness. No longer are princesses subject to the damsel in distress archetype. They’re inventors and future diplomats! Whether or not this self-awareness is constructive to existing plotlines is another issue entirely.

The groundwork for these new societal commentaries embedded within recent Disney films started with the 2007 movie musical Enchanted. The premise follows the animated princess Giselle, played by Amy Adams, who falls quite literally into the real world. The entire joke of the plot is that Giselle is a fish out of water. Her fantasies about true love and marrying princes aren’t compatible with urban life in New York City circa the late 2000s. By the end of the movie, she finds a happy balance between both worlds. Thus, a new trend of poking fun at old princess tropes was born. Movies like Frozen, Moana, and Brave brought new stakes for their female protagonists, while acknowledging the absurdity of past princess expectations.

This new branding strategy has become a little more disingenuous as the company has begun to revamp existing Princess movies. Let’s look at the 2017 remake of Beauty and the Beast. The original movie, which was the first animated picture to be nominated for an Academy Award, had some minor flaws, but overall, it was an incredibly well constructed film. The general criticism being that Belle still perpetuates the conventional standards of femininity and her relationship to the Beast borders on Stockholm syndrome. While these points have some truth, the remake’s main purpose seems to only be correcting these said criticisms. As if to say, “Look at us feminists! Our multimillion-dollar monopoly is more culturally aware of gender roles now!” The reality is that this newly found interest in “fixing” the original movie’s plot holes and Belle’s more passive nature, creates unnecessary and often forced #GirlBoss moments. For example, while live-action Belle is doing her laundry in the town, she teaches a little girl to read. In response, the local school’s headmaster sneers, “Teaching another girl to read? Isn’t one enough”, and the other townspeople are quick to retaliate against Belle’s tutoring by tipping over her make shift washing machine. This is where the text gets too critical of the source. In the original movie, Belle wasn’t seen as odd BECAUSE she read books. Her quirkiness came from the fact that she completely immersed herself into fictional worlds and often didn’t interact with the townsfolk around her. It’s also interesting that a modern adaptation written by two men, Stephen Chbosky and Evan Spiliotopoulos, would try to make feminist critiques of an original screenplay written by a woman, Linda Woolverton.

These adjustments aren’t in place to address actual constructive criticism about the ethics of their past films. If that were the case, they wouldn’t have completely ignored the ramifications of the “Jim Crow” bird in the live action remake of Dumbo, or completely disregarded LGBTQ+ inclusion such as in the new live action Ursula, a villain inspired by the Drag Queen Divine, being cast as a Melissa McCarthy, a straight white woman, instead of utilizing queer performers like Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt’s Titus Burgess or RuPaul’s Drag Race’s Ginger Minj. No, these new commentaries on social justice in Disney Princess movies are just a ploy for getting consumers to buy their new toy lines. Don’t get me wrong, I still enjoy a lot of the media that Disney puts out, but they don’t deserve praise for apolitical social commentary. I, for one, won’t give Disney a cookie for half-assed activism.

Hey guys!! I'm Lorin O'Rear and I am a freshman at the University of Alabama. My major is Secondary Language Arts Education with minors in the Blount Scholars Program and Theatre. Outside of writing, I love listening to music, keeping up with politics, spending time with my two dogs Max and Goose, and spending way too much time decorating my island in Animal Crossing.
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