Between Snow White and Elsa: From Dwarf Hut to Ice Palace10/29/2023
How the images and characters of Disney princesses have changed over 80 years and what that means for us and our children
The Fifth of December is the birthday of Walt Disney, a man whose influence on the world and pop culture can hardly be exaggerated. Disney's cartoon princesses have shaped and continue to shape the worldviews, behaviors, and beauty standards of girls around the world. Disney is well aware of the influence of Snow White, The Little Mermaid, and Elsa, which is why a list of canonical Disney princesses has been compiled. This includes 11 heroines from full-length cartoons, united on a formal basis: they must be of royal blood or join the royal family through marriage.
Let’s have a look at the most famous princess of all time!
Year of Birth: 1937
Appearance: “Hair as black as night, lips as red as a rose, skin as white as snow.” Originally intended to be blonde.
Life Goal: To see only good in people and become everyone's friend.
Activity: Snow White is often criticized for being anti-feminist and passive — she lives with the dwarves, does mostly cleaning and cooking, and waits for Prince Charming to rescue her from her evil stepmother.
Year of Birth: 1950
Appearance: In Charles Perrault's Cinderella, "Cinderella is kind at heart and beautiful in the face." Disney has her as a blonde, although she was supposed to be a redhead.
Life Goal: To be kind and brave.
Activity: Cinderella does rough housework, dresses her stepmother and stepsisters, and dreams of Prince Charming. She is more active than Snow White, acting under pressure from her evil stepmother.
Year of Birth: 1959
Appearance: "Hair like sunshine and lips that would shame a red rose."
Life Goal: Waiting for a miracle to awaken her.
Activity: Sleeping Beauty or Princess Aurora is only active for half an hour in the Disney film. The rest of the time, she sleeps, and she is often criticized for serving as an attractive target to lure a prince. At the same time, Sleeping Beauty is the first animated film in which, at Walt Disney's insistence, the characters' movements are drawn naturally, with a basis in humans.
The Little Mermaid
Year of birth: 1989
Appearance: Fiery red hair, green fish tail, and lilac bodice.
Life Goal: To explore new worlds.
Activity: Ariel the Little Mermaid is more progressive and independent than the older princesses — she decides to undergo a dangerous operation to change her tail, albeit for the sake of Prince Eric.
Year of Birth: 1991
Appearance: Inspired by Katharine Hepburn.
Life Goal: To save her father and then free the Beast.
Activity: The clever, brave, and strong-willed daughter of an inventor gave her village’s blacksmith a hard time, particularly for saying "Women aren't supposed to read!" Shows her best qualities while taming the Beast, for which she is described as "the most mature, feminine, and not as asexual" in comparison to the other Disney princesses.
Year of Birth: 1992
Appearance: Disney’s first POC princess, Jasmine is Middle Eastern with copper eyes and dark black hair.
Life Goal: To find freedom away from her life trapped inside her father’s castle.
Activity: Athletic, independent, freed from her father's tutelage and unwanted fiancé. Tricks the evil sorcerer Jafar by seducing him and participates equally with Aladdin in all adventures.
Year of Birth: 1995
Appearance: A Native American Indian from the Powhatan tribe, Pocahontas has raven-black hair, dark brown eyes, and a tattoo resembling fire around her right arm.
Life Goal: To save her tribe.
Activity: Pocahontas is the first princess with real power; she is a shaman who can listen to the spirits of nature. She stops her tribe's war with the English settlers, despite falling in love with one of them.
Year of Birth: 1998
Appearance: Naturally beautiful with tomboy tendencies, Mulan has Chinese features, dark brown eyes, and long hair she eventually cuts off with her father’s sword.
Life Goal: To save her homeland.
Activity: Disney's first warrior princess, disguises herself as a man to serve in the Imperial army and defend China in battle. Also, the first time Disney made a princess awkward with masculine traits, rather than sophisticated.
Tiana from The Princess and the Frog
Year of birth: 2009
Appearance: Disney’s first African-American princess, Tiana has amber eyes, deep brown skin, burgundy lips, and dark hair she keeps tied back in a ponytail while cooking.
Life Goal: To open her own restaurant.
Activity: Tiana works hard to achieve her dreams, and after turning into a frog, she overcomes all obstacles together with her prince. She is the first princess not to go live with her prince in the royal palace; instead, her prince works with her in her restaurant.
Year of Birth: 2010
Appearance: Blonde with 21 meters of hair.
Life Goal: To free herself from captivity.
Activity: Rapunzel is the first princess destined to become queen by birth rather than marriage. She chooses whomever she wants as her husband, destroys an evil sorceress at the cost of her magic hair, and returns to her parents.
Year of Birth: 2012
Appearance: Red-haired Scottish girl.
Life Goal: To correct her mistake and change her fate.
Activity: Princess Merida dislikes etiquette and embroidery, doesn't want to marry whoever her family tells her to marry, and instead wins men's competitions with a bow and sword. When she causes the queen and princes to turn into bears, she tries to fix the mistake. Brave is the first Disney cartoon is without the typical lovers' final kiss.
Year of birth: 2013
Appearance: A dazzling blonde inspired by the Snow Queen.
Purpose in life: To make peace with herself.
Activity: Disney's first princess with dangerous powers, Elsa has a complex personality with present anxiety and even depression. Safe to say she doesn't think about Prince Charming at all.
But to what extent do the plot and characters affect children's perceptions? Most importantly— do kids understand the difference between reading a fairy tale and watching a cartoon?
Listening and reading encourage us to fantasize. Such work of imagination is extremely important: through these images, the psyche and expression recognize themselves. And when a child watches a cartoon, he perceives ready-made, designer-created images. This is not bad, if they retain deep meaning. But often, filmmakers adapt fairy tales to cater to "children's perceptions," simplifying them and "cleansing" them of suffering and drama, and thus depriving them of depth at the cost of children’s space for imagination.
It's notable that in the past, cartoons were centered around plots based on fairy tales, in which a basic cultural myth was laid down, and much of the behavior and actions of heroines could be explained by the fact that their characters were based around certain cultural values. Disney has always been famous for its ambiguous interpretations of good and evil, very often portraying the concept of evil in an extremely ambiguous and morally confusing way, and sometimes ending films with a villain converting to the position of good in the finale. A few types of evil that Disney characters show:
"Good Evil" is a character that, no matter how you view it, is objectively, unambiguously evil (a Maleficent, a "fairy" that looks like the devil who cursed a child)
“From Good to Evil” is a character who is evil not through their own fault and desire, but because of unfortunate and uncontrollable events (Maleficent in the film of the same name was good and sided with evil, like Theodora of Oz, because of her lover's betrayal).
"Born That Way Evil” is a character whose evilness is out of their own control, evil not of one's own volition— Elsa in Cold Heart (Andersen's version of the Snow Queen) was born possessing magic dangerous to humans.
These repetitive "standards" can be bad in regard to educational potential. The acceptance of evil as good, one specific plot "mechanism" that systematically appears in many Disney productions, is extremely telling. This is typically a female character's persistent and unwarranted attraction to evil, which is carefully and subtly endorsed by the stories as a model of behavior.
Another constant in Disney movies is that all the heroines sing beautifully, and each has some small animal, a friend and helper in difficult moments. They also tend to have difficult fates, charming appearances, and the main thing — a prince, or at least, a male love interest who fits the prince model. And, of course, the heavy legacy of childhood, thanks to which the heroine finds herself in unpleasant situations: an evil stepmother hunts for her, a witch puts her in a tower, and she loses her slipper.
But what about our modern princess? They don't want a glittery tiara or a pink ball gown. Waiting for a prince to come and rescue them? Nope, not anymore. A modern girl will rescue her prince. And woe to the dragon or witch who lightly encroaches on her freedom.