Monday, February 6, 2012

Heroines in Disney Movies

                The first essay for this class asked us to write about how a fictional heroine impacted our lives.  I chose to write about Belle from Beauty and the Beast because as a young girl, I was constantly exposed to Disney princesses and I believe that they had a strong impact on my life.  After writing the essay, I began to think of all Disney princesses and whether or not they could be considered super heroines or not.  They may not have the same tools, disguises, or crime fighting skills as Wonder Woman or Bat Woman, but they do often become the saviors of the story.
                Disney princesses are probably not the first thought most people have when they think of super heroines, but some of them are worthy of this title.  It is true that some of them are saved by the male heroes of the story, such as Jasmine in Aladdin, or are more interested in following their own dreams than being a hero, such as Ariel in The Little Mermaid.  As role models, these two characters have many flaws that make them less independent and strong.  For this reason, Disney princesses in general may not be seen as heroines, though they are often characters that young girls look up to. 
Even though Disney princesses do not all seem to be typical super heroines, two who are especially heroic are Mulan and Pocahontas.  Mulan comes to the aid of her entire family, while risking her own safety and future.   The other characters believe that women are not worthy of fighting, so Mulan gives up her femininity and pretends to be a man.  However, she proves that she is capable of being brave and strong regardless of her gender.  While Mulan is characterized by her physical strength and bravery, Pocahontas is heroic for being noble and wise.  She uses these traits to save herself and her entire culture.  Both Mulan and Pocahontas are concerned with helping others, something characteristic of heroines. 
                Disney princesses offer two different types of heroines.  Some of them truly are shown to be strong and heroic, while others are more dependent on males in the story or are more worried about their own hopes.  Even the characters like Mulan and Pocahontas who are more heroic may not be as “super” as the classic comic book heroine, but they do act valiantly in their storylines.  Ultimately, a heroine is someone who works for the greater good and for justice.  This is what Mulan and Pocahontas were fighting for in their villages and societies.  In this way, these Disney princesses can be seen as a true heroines.


  1. When I think of inspirational Disney princesses, I too immediately turn to Mulan and Pocahontas. They both are strong female characters that serve as role models for young children. I feel as though these two Disney movies can be related to comic books in that they both involve history and heroism. However, it is interesting that although comic books and Disney movies target young children, comic books are much more violent and the characters wear a lot less clothing. In class we discuss some of the adult content that is present in comic books so I'm curious if there is any adult content in some of the Disney movies that we watched when we were younger but didn't pick up on.

  2. I think you make a very interesting point that many young children (in particular, young girls) look upon Disney princesses as heroes. However, I think that many of the “super heroes” present in Disney movies are actually not the main characters at all. For example, in Cinderella, Cinderella does not use her own even will power to save herself at all. Her Fairy Godmother appears and saves her. It is the Fairy Godmother, not Cinderella who possesses the super power and uses it to save Cinderella from their misery. Another example could be the genie in Aladdin. In the comics we read in class, the heroes use their powers ultimately to make life better for other people. In Disney princess movies, the supporting characters most closely reflect this heroism, not the princesses themselves.

  3. As far as the "princesses" such as Snow White, Cinderella, and Sleeping Beauty, the plots definitely do not show true heroines. Theses characters, although lovable and definitely prominent in a young girls life, do not show a strong, independent female role model. These princesses rely on men to save them, rather than themselves. However, I would agree that Mulan is a very strong character. As far as the "adult content" in Disney movies, it has been talked about, but it's definitely not as prominent as comic books. However, I think we have to separate the two. Comic books don't just target young children, but a much broader and older age group. Yes, the content is sometimes too much, but they aren't specifically for children like Disney movies are.

  4. I agree that the more classic princesses are not really superheroines. But the seemingly helpless characters are also from a different time. Snow white was made in 1937, long before modern ideas of women empowerment. It was probably a step that she was living with men she wasn't married to.
    As for other characters, my favorite was Meg from Hercules. Yes, Hercules saves her from Hades, but she rescued him first. She sacrificed herself to push him out of the way of being injured. Again, she doesn't have any special powers, but she still has admirable qualities. She teaches witty responses and is one of the only female Disney characters to take on the idea of rising above past faults and changing a person for the better. So, Disney movies aren't the classic superheroines, but I don't think they try to limit women empowerment.

  5. Last semester I took a class on Disney princesses as my freshman writing seminar. It was really interesting to think about how impressionable children are and the effects that something as innocent as fairytales can have on them. We assume that teaching children about good and bad is the right thing, but the problem lies in the stereotypes that go along with this.

    Most Disney princesses fall into this category of "beauty= good" and "hero= male", but there are definitely instances of newer princesses that don't. I agree that Mulan and Pocahontas are the typical heroines we think of, but what about Belle? She seemed like the most genuine princess to me. She saves and is saved on multiple occasions, as well as being intelligent and clever. Meg is also one of my favorites, Maggie, she's such a powerful and sassy girl. Love it.

  6. Another Disney princess that hasn't been mentioned is Nala from the Lion King. Though whether she really counts as a "princess" is questionable, she is still indeed a strong female character in a Disney movie. She often times is shown as an equal to Simba, even overpowering him physically when they wrestle. She is bright and makes better decisions than Simba, often questioning his plans. In the end, she ends up convincing Simba to come back by forcing him to think about his responsibilities.

    Though Nala, too, has her downfalls, such as relying on Simba to take down Scar when she probably could have done so herself, she does still send out a positive message to young girls, by teaching them to be strong and proactive (somewhat).


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