Disney Princesses Essay

Over the course of the past 80 years we have seen major growth in the company of Disney and the way it presents itself to the rest of the world. One of the many ways Disney presents itself is by the animated films they produce, more specifically, the princess films, that we all know and love. In this paper, I will explore the role and functions of the Disney princesses over the past 80 years and discuss their differences. In particular, the femme fatales we see when Walt Disney was in charge, and how it is the princess rather than the hero who becomes the central figure in these films.

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On the other side, I will look at Team Disney and how they turn the princesses from damsels to more democratic. In 1937, Disney released its’ first princess film, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. In this film, we see a young maiden who had to spin, wash, and mind the animals; housekeeping was always imposed upon her.

As the film moves forward, it becomes apparent that she was “merely concealed behind this inherited drudgery, waiting to be revealed in the new form by the storytelling props…” (De Rozario 37).

After the princess comes of age, we see her meet her true love, the prince, and we see the evil queen, femme fatale, start to take action against our damsel. In Walt’s princess films, the princesses are innocent to any hatred that is pinned against them, their only downfall is their beauty which drives the femme fatale crazy. We see the same course of action in the second princess movie Walt releases, Sleeping Beauty. In this film, Aurora, our princess, is sent away to live in a forest and performs duties the same as a housewife, cleans, cooks, and washes. This was normal in the 30s, 40s, and still the 50s.

It is something that the women of that age can relate too. Also, like the evil Queen in Snow White, the femme fatale in Sleeping Beauty really wants to rule the kingdom for herself “…so it is when the princess is on the brink of womanhood and has found her lover… they move from victimizing the princess to actively seeking her destruction” (43). The Kings in both films are powerless or non-existent when faced with femme fatales, they rely on the prince to save the day. The premise of these films is to recognize how the princess can make the hero a king, and the prince a rescuer, saving them from the femme fatales.

The princesses of early Disney were reliant on these heroes to save them from evil, they weren’t self-dependent, they were damsels in need of rescuing. Disney’s powers of invention failed to save the princes from dull ordinariness with no personality and his princesses from sappy sentimental women. That is where Team Disney took a spin on the whole “princess” operation. Team Disney went back to the drawing boards when they created their first princess, Ariel. A change occurs in which we see the princesses actually taking matters into their own hands.

They become more independent and actually absorb some of the energy of the femme fatales. We even see the princes take a more active role in the films. The Little Mermaid still has characteristics of the old princess films, such as, maintaining the femme fatale with Ursula as the villain, but this princess is less prim and more democratic. Ariel breaks away from the norm of being an obedient daughter and wants to explore the “forbidden. ” She, along with other princesses created by Team Disney, rebel from the typical daddy approved suitor and go for the “bad boy”.

We start to see “heroism, egalitarianism and autonomy slip into the conventions of Disney princesshood” (47). The princesses have now become the heroes. Their new function is self-discovery and self-rule rather than obedience to the typical masculine or feminine roles. Another trend we start to see in the newly made princess films of The Little Mermaid, Pocahontas, and Aladdin, is the fact that they are all “Daddy’s little girl. ” The father/princess relationship serves as a parallel to the government.

The father represents traditional law and order, and the princess represents change and autonomy. A great example of this is in Aladdin, where Jasmine falls in love with a street rat and is forbidden to marry her true love. Fulfillment is reached by addressing the princess’s views and by the king accepting his daughter’s wishes. We see “the father discover the worth of the unacceptable suitors and acknowledge that their “little princess” has grown up” (50). The hero may be more common in these new films but they offer a way for the princess to make her desires “real. However, this time around, the princess offers the hero magic and idealism. The princesses of the decades relate to the desired women that ladies of the day want to be like. In the early films created by Walt, we see more of a housewife character, which was a common role of women in the days of the Depression up to the 1960s. They are reliant on the male to provide for them. Times start to change when Team Disney takes over. The female in these days wants to take a more active role in determining her future; she is independent and does not need to rely on a man to provide for her.

These princesses know what they want and actively seek it throughout the films, just as the women of the present time do. They recognize women’s choice, “whether of a husband or simply of her own future” (57). As history has shown, princess’s roles in society are constantly changing. Even as they change, they will always remain icons that embody the values that people of the time want to embrace.


Do Rozario, Rebecca-Anne C. “The Princess and the Magic Kingdom: Beyond Nostalgia, the Function of the Disney Princess. ” Women’s Studies in Communication. Vol. 27. 34-59. Print.

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