A new crop of revamped Disney films want to reverse those old "princess in distress" stories through female characters who are strong, independent, and unique. Or ... are they? Now, we haven't seen Moana yet. Maybe that totally reverses every bit of unintentional damage those other films did. But, uh ... it doesn't sound likely.
According to linguists, the dialogue in Disney films has been staggeringly dominated by male characters over the years. This sounds like a "the way it's always been" problem, but then you look at the graph:
Carmen Fought and Karen Eisenhauer/The Washington Post
Damn Jasmine, pipe down.
Snow White, Cinderella, and Aurora may not have had any skills outside of cleaning and being liked by birds, but at least their movies let them friggin' speak. Both Frozen and The Princess And The Frog give more than half of their dialogue to male characters, even though they have female protagonists (in Frozen's case, two female protagonists). The Princess And The Frog has less female dialogue than The Little Mermaid, which is LITERALLY A STORY ABOUT A WOMAN LOSING HER VOICE.
Frozen is based on a Hans Christian Andersen story called "The Snow Queen." Tangled, of course, is based on the Grimms' "Rapunzel." Pretty catchy titles -- and what's more, they don't mention gender at all. That's intentional. After The Princess And The Frog underperformed at the box office, Disney made the conscious decision to give its princess films ambiguous, "gender-neutral" titles so they didn't appear too "girly" and turn off potential male theatergoers.
"LOLFUQU" you're already typing in the comments section, "wutz rong wiht bean inklusiv?" Nothing! That ain't our beef. It's what happens next. For Tangled, they created a new character, "Flynn Rider" -- a swashbuckling, badass thief who wasn't in the original story. They then based the entire trailer around him.
Rapunzel doesn't even get the backseat. She's riding in the trunk with the lid closed. She only speaks one line at the very end.
Walt Disney Studios
"That's enough outta you."
They also consciously minimized anything that hinted that the film might contain princesses, a bond between sisters, or even songs. This is the non-rhyming story of a man who loves a reindeer, goddamn it, and not a bit more!
Pixar's Brave kept things similarly vague, with another one-word adjective title and a trailer featuring a husky Scotsman making broad statements about duty. Oh, by the way, those are basically Merida's lines at the end of the movie. A man literally has to speak for her to entice the audience into seeing it.
We prefer our dialogue to be spoken directly by an anthropomorphic penis, when possible.
Now look at the other properties Disney was producing around that time. Wreck-It Ralph, Oz The Great And Powerful, The Odd Life Of Timothy Green, Prince Of Persia, John Carter -- all male characters who are expressly mentioned in the titles. But surely after John Carter flopped, Disney learned its lesson and nixed all mention of men in its future films, which are now solely about objects and natural phenomena.
Disney's traditional princess stories knew a woman's ideal life goal: Get married, have a kid, and then die in order to inspire said kid to learn to love again and eventually get married. Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Snow White, The Little Mermaid -- for Disney women, living "happily ever after" meant "marrying a cape-wearing dude," even if the original fairy tales had them dying alone.
Walt Disney Studios
It's almost as if fairy tale writers have some issues with women.
Our modern, progressive, empowered Disney princesses, on the other hand, are totally breaking with that stuffy old construct by ... living to get married? Still?
Tangled, for example, presents itself as the story of the estranged Rapunzel discovering her true origins and being reunited with her royal biological parents. But of course she also ends up marrying Flynn Rider, who's not only a professional double-crossing thief, but also the first male human Rapunzel has ever seen. No experimental college period? Not even a Tinder spree?
Walt Disney Studios
Though getting brained with a frying pan is as much a "swipe left" as we can think of.
Brave is no better. The entire conflict revolves around tomboy Merida refusing to marry against her will, because she's in charge of her own destiny, dammit! But all Merida actually achieves in the film is postponing her engagement. Marriage is still her ultimate (and inevitable) destiny -- she just now gets to pick which bizarrely proportioned Scottish teen fails to satisfy her for the rest of her life.
In the classic Disney films, both the princesses and princes were essentially fairy tale blanks -- royal, beautiful, magical, boring. In modern Disney movies, the female leads are strong-willed, independent, and three-dimensional, and yet they still live to get married. Only now, instead of princes and knights, they wind up with slackers, thieves, and loners. Progress!
You know the "DreamWorks Face" -- the hilariously specific smirk that seemingly every DreamWorks character sports in their movie posters? Well, Disney/Pixar is just as bad. All their female characters have the exact same face.
An unofficial analysis of facial structures done on the new Disney/Pixar characters found that male characters have vastly more depth and variety, while the female faces are almost identical spheres with oversized baby eyes and tiny button noses.
They all look vaguely like boobs when you get down to it ...
Yep, the male characters have all sorts of different head sizes, shapes, and details, while the women -- from princesses to video game children to physical embodiments of joy -- are all interchangeable variants on the same basic shape. That probably doesn't send any kind of subconscious message, though.
In Frozen, Elsa accidentally freezes her entire kingdom with her cryogenic magic, then almost kills her sister by inadvertently ice-zapping her in the heart. In Brave, Merida foolishly trusts a witch and puts her mother under a spell that turns her into a black bear. In Tangled, Rapunzel is born with magical age-reversing hair, but she's never aware of her own healing powers; instead, she's imprisoned and exploited.
Walt Disney Studios
By another, jealous woman.
In every case, the princesses are helpless and oblivious despite their great power, and they ruin everything by being too selfish and emotional. Compare this to Wreck-It Ralph, or Hiro Hamada from Big Hero 6, who use their abilities to defeat their opposition. You can see that same attitude reflected in society at large. Powerful men are awesome, but women are too emotional to be trusted with important stuff like leadership positions. A competent woman wizard? Gross. They'll probably get their magical periods right as they cast a big spell and accidentally turn the whole kingdom into potato chips.
For more reasons we shouldn't let kids watch Disney movies, check out 7 Classic Disney Movies That Taught Us Terrible Lessons and 5 Awful Lessons Disney Teaches You About Relationships.
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