Whether they are defeating armies or going to balls, the famous Disney princesses have been a huge part of childhoods for millions of children across the globe. However, there is an age-old debate about whether the messages some of these movies give little girls growing up is harmful to their opinions of themselves. Little girls may grow up thinking that they are to be saved by a prince or that they are subpar to boys. Personally, I grew up believing that my twin brother was stronger and more powerful than me. He was a boy and I was a girl. In the princess movies of my childhood, the boys always saved the girls, and my six-year-old brain thought that must be the case in real life. What makes some Disney princess movies provide a better message than others is where the man comes in—whether they have to save the princess in a huge way or are more of a sidekick. Here is a list of the top three worst and best messages sent by Disney princesses.
“The Little Mermaid” focuses on Ariel, a mermaid, falling in love with a prince who she saves. The movie has the star-crossed-lovers cliché with a crazy, power-hungry sea witch involved. Throughout the whole movie, Ariel tries to get together with the prince, even signing away her tail and relationship with her family to do so, implying that she has to change herself to get the guy she wants. She gives little girls the message that it’s perfectly okay to sacrifice their passions for a man who doesn’t know they exist, which is why it sends the worst message to young female viewers.
Although not quite as bad as “The Little Mermaid,” “Sleeping Beauty” doesn’t send a positive message to little girls either. Aurora, a princess, is sent into hiding after a witch casts a spell for her to die on her 16th birthday. The movie ends with Aurora being saved by a kiss from Prince Phillip. This may give girls the idea that they always need a man in their lives to be there to rescue them. Even though that’s a far-fetched idea, it’s a constant theme throughout the movie. For instance, Aurora is only 15, yet the first time she and Prince Philip meet, she is already singing about her dream to marry a prince.
- Snow White
“Snow White and the Seven Dwarves” is one of the earliest movies released by Disney, and it may be why many of the movies following it send a relatively similar message to little girls. They encourage the idea that girls are helpless when they encounter a problem and that a prince must save the day. Snow White is a princess that was ordered to be killed by her stepmother, but is spared by a guilt-ridden huntsman. She ends up in the woods, playing a housewife for seven dwarves. This encourages the housewife stereotype that women are often cast aside to, with many of the dwarves not even offering their thanks. Finally, Snow White is poisoned toward the end of the movie, but is saved by a prince.
“The Princess and the Frog” is one of the most interesting Disney princess movies for many reasons. First of all, instead of being set in a mythical land nobody knows, the film is set in 1920s New Orleans, a majority black city that lacks representation. Second of all, Tiana is the first African-American Disney princess, which makes her a favorite princess for many young girls. African-American girls playing dress-up with friends now have a princess to look up to. Lastly, and most importantly, Tiana is one of the only princesses that did not start out as a princess. Instead, as shown by the fact that she holds two waitressing jobs as a teenager, she grows up without a lot of wealth. However, she is very hardworking and her main life goal is to own a restaurant. Though she does get help from a prince, he doesn’t rescue her. Instead, he needs her help turning from a frog back into a human. The only issue with this movie is that Tiana does get sidetracked from her goal and is willing to throw away all her hard work just to save the prince. However, when he is saved and she becomes a princess, she fulfills her goals and opens a popular restaurant.
- Elsa & Anna
Like “The Princess and the Frog,” “Frozen” is a newer princess movie, involving the famous duo Anna and Elsa. It is number two on this list mainly because it emphasizes the importance of love between friends, not just romantic partners. Instead of Anna’s love interest saving her, Elsa is able to save Anna through an act of “true love.” What makes this film even better is that once Anna is saved, Elsa and Anna get revenge on the man who was trying to harm their relationship to gain control over the kingdom. Though Anna does end up with a man, no marriage occurs and instead, the “happily ever after” involves Elsa and Anna being able to successfully run a kingdom on their own.
“Mulan” starts off with Mulan being prepared to meet with the matchmaker. She has been told that the only way she can bring honor to her family is to be married and bear a son. However, she manages to honor her family in her own way. When her father is drafted for the army, Mulan sees that he is injured and in no way capable of fighting. She chooses to dress up as a man and be drafted in his place. In the army, Mulan struggles, but eventually manages to master military skills through hard work and perseverance. She is able to help the army defeat the Huns, and does so by using her intelligence. Mulan ends up with a man at the end of the movie, but she is in no way dependent upon him. Even with these positive messages, the movie does have faults. “Mulan” is racist toward the Huns, which is seen when they are depicted as beasts. Additionally, it pushes the message that girls should “make a man” out of themselves. The same message, however, can also tell little girls that they are capable of being on the same level as men. Though “Mulan” is not perfect, it contains the best messages for little girls out of all the Disney movies.
Looking back, it is no surprise that the Disney princess movies ranked with the worst messages are older than the ones sending the best messages. Princesses in fairy tales have long been thought of as the classic “damsel in distress” figure. However, as years go by and feminist ideas such as girl love, heroines, and independence have become more widespread, these ideas are better represented in the more recent movies. Although there are still many issues with entertainment for today’s children, it can definitely be said that it’s getting better. Not only have the Disney princesses become racially diverse, but the main plots of the movies have generally moved away from men and focused on messages that can help young girls become strong women.