Thursday, October 5, 2023

The New Disney Princesses: Pros and Cons

Victoria Pedraza | 9/25/2023

Who doesn’t love Disney princesses? Most people grew up with them! The history of Disney princesses spans nearly a century, captivating audiences with tales of magic, love, and bravery. But time goes on and values, principles, and society change, and with them, what people want to see on screen. Or want their children to see on screen. Disney has responded to this change in two ways, the (in my opinion misguided) rewriting of the classics, and the writing of entirely new princesses, that better represent newer generations. Today we focus on this new generation of princesses.

The Pros of New Disney Princesses

A. More grounded and realistic

I am far from critical of the classic Disney princesses. Some call them passive, but if they are, I feel it is always in favor of the story. Take Snow White and Sleeping Beauty, both literally unconscious when they were rescued, how were they supposed to rescue themselves? Or Cinderella, wasn’t she the one who defied her stepmother to go to a ball? Sure, she had some help from a fairy godmother, but still, hardly passive. The decision was all her own. I could go on. But let’s focus on the new ones.

These new princesses bring, if you will, more vibrant personalities, try to picture somebody like Elsa letting a murder attempt go (like Snow White). They have more realistic character traits, allowing audiences to relate to their challenges and growth. Gone are the days of the so-called passive protagonists; these princesses face their trials head-on, inspiring young viewers to do the same.

B. Better representation of diverse cultures

In an increasingly globalized world, the new Disney princesses offer a broader representation of different cultures, breaking free from the limited portrayal seen in earlier princesses. This diversity fosters cultural understanding and promotes inclusivity.

It’s a bit ridiculous that the first black princess was Tiana in 2009, while we only got a Latina in 2021 (Mirabel is not an official princess, but I choose not to care). It’s not perfect of course, and sometimes Disney’s attempts at representation and inclusivity feel a bit shoehorned and fall flat, but we should still applaud those attempts that feel genuine instead of pandering.

C. Stronger and more independent characters

Modern Disney princesses are depicted as strong, independent individuals, emphasizing the importance of self-reliance and empowerment. They are not defined by their relationships but by their aspirations, dreams, and achievements, setting a positive example for young audiences. In fact, a lot of these princesses don’t have a significant other. Maribel, Elsa, Merida, and Moana. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with having a prince charming, but it’s nice when a character is allowed to grow without needing one.

The Cons of New Disney Princesses

A. Not as well written as classic Princesses

Much as I hate to admit it, there was a magic to those classic princesses that Disney just can’t seem to recreate. Strictly from a writing perspective, these new princesses just aren’t quite as compelling. Critics argue that the storytelling and character development of these new princesses may not match the depth and quality seen in classic Disney princess films. The intricacies of their personalities and narratives might fall short of the timeless charm of the earlier princesses. 

This however is one criticism that may be proven wrong. After all, it’s not for critics (or for me), to decide if a movie is timeless or not. That right belongs to audiences.

B. Lack of memorable songs and iconic moments

While the new Disney princesses have captivating stories, some contend that they lack the iconic musical moments and unforgettable songs that were a hallmark of earlier princess films. These songs have a unique ability to resonate with audiences long after they leave the theater.

For the most part, there’s one standout musical number, and the rest are just, fine. Meanwhile, I can still remember every note of the So this is Love number from Cinderella. There are exceptions, Encanto’s music for example is pretty damn good. But the critique remains valid.

C. Some may argue they are too politically correct

This, for me, is the big one. Whatever happened to good old-fashioned escapism in movies? It feels like everything has a deeper message behind it. In an attempt to be inclusive and sensitive to societal concerns, some critics feel that the modern Disney princesses might come off as overly cautious or politically correct. In not-so-nice words, Disney can fall into the trap of pandering. This is an attempt to please a diverse audience rather than staying true to the essence of storytelling.

The funny part is, that this has more and more often backfired. Why? Maybe because we can tell it’s not genuine but rather an attempt to curry political/societal favor, maybe because it takes away from the story, distracting from the movie itself to instead talk about the gay couple with a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment in the Beauty and the Beast remake. Or maybe, it’s the simple fact that nobody wants to be lectured all the time, and nobody wants to be called racist, sexist, or both for just enjoying a particular piece of media. Most likely it's a combination of all of this.

Examples of New Disney Princesses

A. Moana

Moana, a Pacific Islander princess, stands out as a symbol of courage and determination. Her story revolves around her love for her people and her island, motivating her to embark on a perilous journey to restore the heart of Te Fiti and save her home from an ecological crisis. Moana breaks away from traditional princess tropes by focusing on self-discovery and her duty to her community. Her character embodies resilience, leadership, and a deep-rooted connection to her culture and the environment.

B. Tiana

Tiana, the hardworking and ambitious waitress turned princess in "The Princess and the Frog," showcases the values of perseverance and dedication. Her story emphasizes the importance of hard work and determination in achieving one's dreams. Tiana's journey from being a talented chef dreaming of owning her own restaurant to becoming a princess who values love, family, and ambitions is an inspiring tale for young viewers. She defies the traditional princess narrative, demonstrating that success comes from hard work and passion.

C. Merida

Merida, the spirited Scottish princess from "Brave," challenges conventional gender roles and expectations. With her remarkable archery skills and adventurous spirit, Merida rebels against the age-old tradition of arranged marriages, seeking to carve her own destiny. This princess exemplifies independence, bravery, and the courage to stand up for her beliefs. Merida's story focuses on family dynamics, personal growth, and embracing one's true self, breaking away from the typical romance-centered narratives of traditional princess tales.

D. Elsa and Anna

Elsa and Anna from "Frozen" redefine the dynamics of sisterly love and familial relationships. Elsa, the Snow Queen, grapples with her icy powers and the responsibility that comes with them, symbolizing the struggles of self-acceptance and embracing one's uniqueness. Anna, on the other hand, portrays resilience, optimism, and the strength of sisterhood as she embarks on a journey to reconnect with Elsa and save their kingdom. "Frozen" places emphasis on the power of family bonds and self-discovery.

Conclusion and Takeaway

The evolution of Disney princesses over time reflects a changing societal landscape, seeking to address the need for more relatable, diverse, and empowering female characters. While acknowledging that the newer Disney princesses have their share of criticisms, it is imperative to recognize the positive impact they bring to the table.

Despite the criticisms of being less well-written than their classic counterparts, the new Disney princesses represent a significant departure from traditional stereotypes. They are portrayed as more grounded and realistic individuals who grapple with challenges in a way that mirrors the real world. These characters serve as role models, encouraging resilience, determination, and independence in the face of adversity.

While the new Disney princesses may have their flaws, they represent a refreshing change in the world of animation. They offer better representation and relatability for young children, presenting a more balanced and diverse view of the world. As society continues to progress, it's essential to advocate for well-written, culturally diverse characters in media, ensuring that stories accurately reflect the vibrant tapestry of our global community. Encouraging and celebrating such positive shifts in storytelling will contribute to a more inclusive and inspiring entertainment landscape for generations to come.

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