The Evolution of Disney Princesses

The Evolution of Disney Princesses

By Anya Sczerzenie

Disney movies are a staple of many American childhoods. Ever since the first Disney princess movie, Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, came out in 1937, princesses from these movies have been the obsession and favorite of young girls. Many girls want to be like Disney princesses, and this influences how they see themselves and what they think their role in life should be. But as culture and society have changed through time, so have the roles of female disney characters. Princesses have evolved from pretty and young “damsels in distress” waiting to be saved, to strong young women on heroic journeys of their own.

Earlier Disney films usually featured a “rescue” scenario, whether it was Snow White or Sleeping Beauty being awakened by their princes or Cinderella being rescued by the magic of the Fairy Godmother. But the role of princesses has been changing ever since. Disney princess movies that came out in the 1980’s and 90’s show more of a leadership role for female characters, such as when Mulan (1998) defied gender roles by becoming a hero in the army or when Pocahontas (1995) stopped a battle between her tribe and the English settlers. The new, heroine princesses have been celebrated as better examples for children. With Disney princesses becoming more multicultural and hailing from a variety of backgrounds, more girls can feel represented as well.

The latest Disney princess movies showcase the abilities and journeys of princesses as the main focus of the film. For example, Disney’s 2016 princess film features Moana, a young Polynesian princess who sails across the ocean to save her island from being destroyed. Disney princesses have also been shown more and more without a “love interest”. Moana, Merida, and Elsa all present strong female personas without a prince by their side.

But this trend towards stronger female characters isn’t exclusive to Disney films. The roles of female characters in all types of media and storytelling have been changing with society. The idea of feminism and equality between sexes is more prevalent than ever, and this not only empowers female characters on screen but also empowers the young girls who watch them. The influence of stories on kids is powerful, because the stories they are told in childhood can influence who they want to grow up to be. Thanks to the changing role of Disney princesses, we’re seeing far fewer little girls waiting around to be rescued.