Disney’s The Little Mermaid, a live-action adaptation of the literary fairy tale and animated film, made its way to the theatres on the 26th of May. While some re-lived their childhood with the movie, it also sparked the feminist debate around Disney Princesses

Halle Bailey joins Disney Princesses as The Little Mermaid

Disney princesses have been a subject of discussion and analysis from a feminist perspective for a long time now. The portrayal of Disney princesses has evolved over the years, reflecting changing societal attitudes towards gender roles and empowerment. While early Disney princesses were often criticised for their passive roles and reliance on male characters, more recent princesses have showcased greater agency, independence, and strength.

Disney Princesses Then

In the early years, Disney princesses like Snow White, Cinderella, and Sleeping Beauty were often depicted as damsels in distress, waiting for a prince to rescue them. These characters were passive and their stories revolved around finding love and marriage. Critics argue that these portrayals reinforced traditional gender roles and perpetuated the idea that a woman’s ultimate goal in life is to find a prince and live happily ever after.

The Little Mermaid and Cinderella from Disney Princesses are evolving
The Fairytale Traveler

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Disney Princess Now

In recent years, Disney has made efforts to create princesses who challenge traditional gender norms and exhibit more agency. For example, characters like Mulan, Pocahontas, and Moana are strong and independent, showcasing courage, resilience, and the ability to take charge of their own destinies. These characters are often praised for their bravery and for defying societal expectations placed on women.

The Little Mermaid; Moana one of the new age Disney Princesses

Disney’s more recent princesses, such as Elsa from “Frozen” and Merida from “Brave,” have further embraced feminist themes. Elsa is a complex character who learns to embrace her powers and find her own identity, breaking free from the constraints placed upon her. Merida, on the other hand, rejects the notion of marriage and focuses on her own personal growth and independence.

Disney not only has evolved its Princesses with the changing times, making them more independent, but it has also tried to make the entire set-up more inclusive. In the latest release, The Little Mermaid, Ariel is played by Halle Bailey, a girl of colour. It is a breakthrough moment for little girls with different skin tones, to be able to see somebody like them as their favourite Disney character. The youngest daughter of King Triton, Ariel embarks on a journey to satiate her curiosity.

The colour of Feminism

Disney surely has changed its Princesses with the changing times, many viewers, both women and men feel that the earlier Princesses were also strong female characters. Cinderella for instance went to the ballroom for herself. On the way, these Princesses found love. So, it was not for love or for a Prince Charming that they waited for. Instead they were women with a voice seeking for opportunities to grow. However, the dominance of male figures in earlier tales cannot be ignored.

The Little Mermaid is an inclusive take on Disney Princesses
Bijou Karman

There is always room for better

It is important to note that while Disney princesses have become more empowering and representative of feminist ideals, there is still room for improvement. Critics argue that the emphasis on physical beauty and the narrow portrayal of femininity in some of these characters can still reinforce certain stereotypes. However, more inclusivity of Disney princesses over time reflects a growing awareness and effort to address feminist concerns and create more diverse and empowering female characters.

Ultimately, the impact of Disney princesses on feminism is a complex and ongoing discussion. These characters have the potential to inspire and empower young girls by showcasing bravery, resilience, and the ability to challenge societal expectations. However, it is also important to encourage critical thinking and media literacy, helping children understand that real-life empowerment goes beyond the confines of fictional narratives.