The establishment and manifestation of many female archetypes was evident in the first Disney Princess movie. Each archetype can be identified by a number of similar characteristics, which can then be classified according to their physical attributes or personal characteristics. These archetypes are intersubjective and influence how we view different types of women in Disney’s world and in real life.
These Disney Princess films feature the archetypal roles: the Princess, Evil Guardian and Fairy Godmother. Snow White is one of the Princesses. The Evil Guardians are the wicked stepmothers and witches. In many movies, there is the Fairy Godmother. The Foils refer to evil stepsisters or other female characters.
Extremely symmetrical and hourglass-shaped faces, with voluminous locks and symmetrical shapes.
Catering to the dominant image of beauty in Western society:
Both Princess Aurora and Cinderella, 1950s characters, have blonde hair. This coincides well with Hollywood 1950s’ era classic blonde bombshells. (Jordon. 2009) Jasmine was also a fascinating Oriental exoticism who appealed to Western society. However, the Evil Guardians are quite different to the princesses. They are:
It is shockingly fragile
Maleficent, Lady Tremaine and the disguised Queen
Red lips and arched eyebrows make for very striking expressions
Wear long, dark drapes or capes.
The manifestation of evil is the central theme. Their inner cruelty can be physically seen, which indicates that cunning characters can be identified simply by their appearance. This is reflected in the fact that Evil Guardians seem to be very different from Fairy Godmothers. These Fairy Godmothers are taller and more attractive than the Evil Guardians. It is obvious that the princesses have many common traits when looking at their individual characteristics. These are the characteristics of the princesses:
Take care of their poor step-sisters or dwarfs in a caring and homely way.
Men love this item.
Presumably for domesticity and beauty
Fathers are not just for courtiers
The princesses’ fathers love them in Beauty and the Beast and The Little Mermaid and Aladdin.
Strong relationships are formed with their fathers. The maternal relationship is essentially absent without the presence or involvement of a biological mom.
After being tricked, villains put them in difficult circumstances
You may not have agency or little.
They rely on men for their financial security
Damsels in distress
Friendships with animals
The princesses’ great characters are organically drawn to them.
Do not have female friends.
The Foils are Ariel’s sisters from Little Mermaid, Cinderella’s evil step-sisters in Cinderella and the Beauty and the Beast barmaids.
All of them appear:
Male attention is needed desperately
This serves to increase the desireability of princesses.
All Evil Guardians:
The princesses are the most coveted.
Stark contrast to Princesses’ animal friend friends
Commonly, harmful animals like eels and crows.
The Fairy Godmothers, however, are quite the contrast.
Clean magic is also possible
Do not be like the Evil Guardians who have supernatural affiliations
These mothers are good, loving mothers because they put their young daughters first. This connects the image and concept of motherly older women — which many are familiar with. Disney may not be the original creator of this image, but he sure did perpetuate it. Vain mothers who are solely interested in their own advancement (the Evil Guardians), will never be good mothers. It is the image of a woman who is vain and covered up in make-up that is associated with the notion of a poor mother. These archetypes can be distinguished in a variety of ways. The Evil Guardians lack personality and appearance, but the princesses have all they need. They attract the same attention as the Foils. These categories seem to have almost identical characteristics. The princesses inspire young girls to admire them and also detest the Evil Guardians. In this way, there is a hierarchy, where certain characters are more admirable than others. We have seen that all Disney princesses share the same characteristic of being blessed with natural beauty, which is what makes them princesses. This simple combination of natural beauty with notions of goodness makes it so that princesses are often defined by their sexual attraction and identities. Beauty is equated with femininity and femaleness. This then becomes a key to happiness for a woman. They can find happiness almost as naturally and easily as their beauty. The result is a “beauty show motif” (Rollin, 1987), where the pretty get their reward while the unattractive don’t find happiness. The idea is that those females who are not up to the “natural” beauty standard should accept it and not seek out beauty. It’s a common theme in films about villainy. The characteristics that princesses display, such as grace and domesticity and an almost child-like level of naivete can be interpreted as desirable feminine characteristics like kindness and purity by Shar et al. (1999). This portrayal has a problem because their naivete can lead to infantilization of them, while their focus on their physical appeal sexualizes them. The villains, on the other hand, are often depicted as ugly and preoccupied with vanity. This is then linked with greed and malicious intention. This is particularly evident in female villains. They plot to imprison and kill the princesses, which in turn satisfies their jealousy. Snow White & the Seven Dwarves: The Queen plots to kill Snow White to make her the “fairest person in the country”. Cinderella tells us that Cinderella’s beauty was a threat for her daughter’s advancement in society. You will also notice that Disney’s villainous female femme fatales are actually the ones who take responsibility for their own empowerment. Their portrayal of female power as spiteful and calculating is a negative one. Women’s intelligence and cunning are often used as manipulative and scheming tools. Ursula is, despite all her evil intents, still a very strong woman. She is able to defeat King Triton, who is the epitome of male patriarchy in The Little Mermaid. Prince Eric eventually defeats her. The world of Disney Princess is clearly a dangerous place for women to have ambition. This only reinforces the divide between the Disney Princess movies’ beautiful-iss-good and ugly is-evil themes. These neat and simple categories make it easy for the audience to identify the heroes and the villains by simply reading the cover. The Disney Princess movies all feature a common theme of romance and love. For princesses to have happily everafter, their ultimate goal is to get married or enter a romantic relationship. It is obvious that only romantic films featured female leads. They always got married or were romantically involved. The theme of love at first appearance was also a key theme in 18 Disney films (Tonn, 2008.) Even though Belle and Ariel begin as independent, free-spirited heroines, they are soon brought back to patriarchal society when they fall for someone they love. This reinforces heterosexual normativity. It also suggests that a woman can only be complete if she finds her man. The first Disney Princesses (Snow White, Cinderella & Aurora) had little agency. They also emphasized their physical attributes more than their character development. This early Disney Princess film series was criticized for not allowing women to have agency. Disney had to alter the way they depicted their princesses as feminists gained more attention. In the later Disney Princess films, a variety of cultural influences and social developments pertaining to female rights played a major role in the development of new moral codes. These later films feature different forms and types of sexualizations of Disney Princesses. The modern princesses are more exposed to the sun than their predecessors. Ariel and Jasmine, both produced in late 80s/early 90s, expose their midriffs. Belle and Mulan are depicted in undress at various points in the film. This conforms with the 1980s/90s concept of “sex selling” and open sex, which are two of the most important elements to clothing design in the 1980s/90s (Ewing, 1992). This modern generation of princesses demonstrates a new sense and agency. As they have the ability to make their own decisions, they feel more empowered and can thus determine their fate. Ariel trades her voice to get a pair of legs. Jasmine willfully seduce Jafar to rescue Aladdin. Mulan joins them, rejecting all aspects of her society’s ideal woman and choosing to become a soldier to replace her father. These princesses have the ability to be intelligent and wise. Contrary to previous princesses that lacked character development and Belle is shown reading avidly, while Pocahontas has a strong spiritual connection to nature and is well respected in her tribe. These productions show that Disney is addressing feminist issues. The princesses are empowered with intelligence, assertiveness, and more control over their lives. Evidently, the depiction of subservient women characters in films from the 1960s no longer represents femininity. The changing attitudes of society toward gender roles and, specifically, women empowerment, are evident in the later princesses. Many of the Disney Princesses’ female characters have achieved independence and no longer need to depend on the “male rescuer”. However, the Disney Princesses series portrays happiness that relies on overcome obstacles and finding romance, rather than just saving the day. The Western ideals of beauty, empowerment and individual rights for women characters are still prevalent. The “happily ever after” endings of these princesses is the same regardless of how different they may have been and how much they may have matured in independence. They are still dependent on their men to make sure they are whole. The Disney Princess films have drastically altered fairy-tales in order to adapt them for their own purposes. These conscious decisions are made to highlight “desirable” female traits and values. It is clear that the gendered ideologies depicted in Disney Princesses films have been shaped by society values throughout their history. The Disney Princess series doesn’t introduce any new ideas of femininity. They reflect, reinforce, and even expand upon the existing socially-accepted ideals. This creates narrative expectations and feeds into gender norms by repeating the same motifs in films. This is why Disney princess films often contain romantic expressions. Also, it is no surprise that films containing Disney princesses have a higher proportion of romantic expressions. Analyses found that the most widespread ideal across all films was the idealization and challenge of others. Half of all ideals were expressed in the transitional age. In classic films, ideals were threefold more common than the challenges, while modern and transitional films had equal numbers of ideals. In general, in all three eras, the most common response to challenges was to punish and reprimand, while ideals were often rewarded. Finaly, although there weren’t any differences in the ideal expressions of sex, 9 of 11 films featured male characters as the main romantic pursuers. Viewers are absorbed early in life with stereotypes and idealized romantic, love and sex. These perceptions can shape and mold expectations over time. They reflect how two people should interact in real-life situations. Particularly young people are susceptible to images and stereotypes that are propagated in the media. This has led to extensive research into the effects of media on romantic relationships and the impact of media on them. Romantic films, which have been popularized since the 1930s, offer a glimpse into the future. Romantic relationships have been idealized and made to look perfect so that they can be portrayed as a positive, hopeful ending. Because romantic films are often used to teach us something that can be applied in daily life, it is also important to learn what messages viewers are seeing.