So. . . Where Are All The Disney Female Friendships?

Disney has been telling stories to us for almost a hundred years. Some of the nearest and dearest to our hearts are Disney Princesses like Pocahontas (1995), The Little Mermaid (1989), Frozen (2013), Mulan (1998), Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937) and Beauty and the Beast (1991). All of these movies are part of the unspoken curriculum of being a young girl in America and play a part in shaping us as future women. As I look back on these films I realize there is something crucial missing from them--an important example of womanhood--female friendships. More often than not, even if women are the center of the film, we are unable to see them in healthy, supportive relationships with other women. 

Growing up as a young girl, you are thrown into the world of princesses, which has a lot to offer, both good and bad. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937) offers us good by presenting a classic narrative and teaching us the importance of ‘true love.’ Right alongside this uplifting message, the movie also teaches a dangerous lesson by blurring lines of consent when Prince Charming kisses a sleeping Snow White. Many girls may have learned the importance of not silencing their voice from The Little Mermaid but also are subjected to a storyline that reinforces the idea a woman’s main goal should be marriage. Each Disney movie seems to be somewhat paradoxical by offering many important life lessons but also reproducing dangerous ideologies. As Disney continues to make movies for young girls that will shape them it's important to remind Disney that “with great power, comes great responsibility.”

In the past years it seems that Disney has taken their responsibility more seriously. Disney had made an effort to not just include more cultures in their films, but to include members of these communities in the making of the films. Moana (2016) is a great example of Disney’s efforts of inclusion. Disney worked closely with many Polynesian people to avoid problems they’d come against in the past with movies like Mulan, Pocahontas and Peter Pan when it comes to cultural portrayals. With all this representation, we still have yet to see a movie centered around female friendship and it's time Disney takes responsibility for that.  

The vast majority of Disney movies are dominated by a heteronormative narrative that results in marriage or at least the presumption of a marriage. As Disney has made an effort to separate from this, they’ve still missed the mark. Moana features no romantic plot at all but still has a plot driven by her relationship with a man. With a closer look, the relationship between Maui and Moana mirrors the relationship between Belle and the Beast in Beauty and the Beast. A sweet young girl must endure the abuse of a tattered man until she is able to teach him to soften his heart. It is important to portray relationships between men and women as platonic but haven’t men been at the forefront of the conversation for long enough?

Frozen (2013) made a huge impact as the movie places sisterly love as the focal point while actively drawing attention to the errors of the past Disney movies we’ve loved and learned from. Frozen was able to get closer but what the story is supposed to be and what the story actually is aren’t always the same thing. The whole point of Frozen was supposed to be an emphasis on the love between two sisters yet the plot doesn’t display much of their relationship. In fact, quite a bit of screen time is instead dedicated to a budding romance between Anna and Hans. It is a step in the right direction but we have many more steps to take as a society. Moving forward, relationships between sisters and other women need to shown so girls can model their relationships after those. In today’s society, the media often pits women against each other or completely omits their relationships with each other. It’s important we align ourselves together, and I know having Disney on the same page would help.