With the recent movie releases of Frozen and Maleficent we see there is a new change in the way Disney portrays the story but have they ever had any feminism in previous works? Warning, if you haven’t seen these films there are spoilers below.

When Maleficent first came out I didn’t know what to expect, although with what I did conclude from the trailers it was challenging the original movie Sleeping Beauty and there was also a big twist involved. This twist was family love being the strongest love rather than the love of a man. This theme was also in Frozen, where the sisters used their own strength to defeat death. Going back to Maleficent, the feminist thread is that she was betrayed by her one true love and being a strong independent woman she was able to forget about cowering in the shadows, which could be a metaphor for many connotations of the theme, and instead chose to save someone that she grew to love as her own daughter. The same with Aurora, she didn’t run straight into the arms of a boy to get her happily ever after that Disney is well famous for, instead she did what she wanted and went to live in the forest as the new queen, again showing the power and strength of women.

Although Frozen has the feminism of womanly power and also the theme of family love, it pales in comparison to Maleficent but we have to remember that the latter came out after, which hopefully means Disney is slowly improving and intends to add more feminist undertones to their movies.

Bustle has written an article about whether Disney princesses are good or bad role models using feminism to determine which. This included the older more classic Disney movies we’ve grown up to love but also the ones that are more known to be anti-feminist in some ways.

Belle the protagonist of Beauty and the Beast has a few good pointers to being a strong character that has been mentioned in the article; she loves to read books and there is a song that explains that, but the muscular Gaston, a sort of misogynist, defies her ideas of reading which she ignores, and although he attempts to force her into marriage she disagrees and rejects him and continues to read. Later on when her father is captured she sacrifices herself to be a prisoner for the beast to let her father live. Although, some say, such as the article in Ranked, that this is where it gets iffy since she makes herself prisoner to a man or monster. You can also see it as a show of independence and bravery, with a woman sacrificing herself for family love.

For another example we have Mulan, she is a strong character which is much more obvious than in other movies. She pretends to be a guy to get into the army because she feels better in this role but also again, we see a female  putting herself on the line so her injured father doesn’t have to, reinforcing that idea of the strength of family love and sacrifice. In the end her main priority isn’t finding a man and the story isn’t motivated by the notion of her falling in love; it’s the nature of her character, working hard to get what she wants and in the end Shang and the Emperor accept her bravery and don’t punish her for breaking the rules.

The Little Mermaid had many complaints about how Ariel sacrifices everyone for a man. But if you watch more closely and look at the order of things and her priorities and what was on her mind right from the beginning, we can see it wasn’t just Prince Eric that made her swoon and trade her voice so she can go on land. Like Bustle stated, “Even before she saw Prince Eric, Ariel was infatuated with the human world and collected whatever artefacts she could to try and understand them. Ariel wants to actually experience the human world for herself, even as everyone tells her to stay where she supposedly belongs.”

Although I agree these may not be the best examples of feminism and female empowerment, but we also have to remember that these movies are mostly all based in the past, based on fairy tales that were much more grotesque and included horrifying scenes of rape and misogyny. The question is whether they have been pushed far enough?

What will be next? Is Disney intentionally giving mixed examples of feminism in their movies? And are they going to develop this even further?





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