Earlier this week, I began my defense of the Disney Princesses with the classic generation: Snow White, Cinderella, and Aurora (Sleeping Beauty). You can read that article here. In part II, I will focus on the ’90s princesses: Ariel (who is technically 1989), Belle, Jasmine, Pocahontas, and Mulan. In the ’90s, the princesses begin to be independent. Rather than being orphaned or separated from their parents, these five princesses love their fathers (only Mulan seems to have a mother). Even so, they are willing to leave their families in order to grow up.
Ariel is the first princess to pursue her prince rather than waiting for him to pursue her. Animated films were no longer novel at this point, so Disney began to focus more on character development. Ariel collects human knickknacks and is obsessed with the world on land. Fiercely independent, she is also fearless, which makes her more willing to take risks. The plot is driven by Ariel’s actions rather than the actions of those in power around her. The problem that most people have with Ariel is that she is willing to change her body to be with a man, which tell girls that they are not beautiful enough. I cannot recall Ariel ever giving the impression that she believes herself to be ugly. She doesn’t want to change her appearance, she wants the ability to join the human world, to be the type of person she admires. The Little Mermaid is not the story of a girl who hates her body, but of a girl who wants to be more than that with which she was born.
Belle is my favorite princess. She is intelligent, brave, and confident. Belle knows how to stand up for herself. She doesn’t like people because they are important or popular, and she doesn’t do something simply because it is expected of her. Physical appearance isn’t important to Belle. Some accuse her of having Stockholm syndrome, but it’s clear that that isn’t the case. The Beast may be her captor, but Belle is hardly dependent on him, nor is he the only company available in the castle. A relationship is forged between them when the Beast saves Belle from the wolf pack, proving that he is willing to put himself in danger to save her. Belle teaches girls that heart is more important than physical beauty–the lesson that Disney critics say should be taught.
A Whole New World
In 1992, Disney began to move away from the European princesses, starting with Jasmine. Like the ’90s princesses before her, Jasmine’s dream is for freedom. Unlike Snow White, who was waiting patiently for her prince to come, Jasmine doesn’t want to be trapped in an arranged marriage. Jasmine scorns the idea of being treated as a sex object; instead, she would rather be loved for her fiery spirit. She runs away from the palace seeking friendship and adventure, and she finds both in Aladdin. Not only does Jasmine teach young girls to pursue an authentic relationship, she teaches boys that respect is the best way to earn a girl’s heart (after all, Aladdin is directed at boys).
Pocahontas is the first American princess. [NOTE: I won’t be referencing the historical Pocahontas, since I am focusing on the Disney princesses in this series, and a historical comparison would take it off track. I think we all know that the true story is vastly different than as portrayed in the film.] In many ways, Pocahontas fits the earth mother archetype. She is in tune with nature and possesses intense self-awareness. She cares for everyone and everything around her, wishing for peace above all else. Like Belle and Jasmine, Pocahontas turns away from her society’s idea of the man she should marry and makes her own decision. Not only is Pocahontas in control of her personal life, she acts as an informal ambassador of her people, influencing the lives of everyone around her. She is a powerful figure that has respect, not only as her father’s daughter, but in her own right as well. She is a princess of merit as well as a princess of birth.
Mulan is the last princess of the ’90s. The classic rebellious princess, Mulan is the opposite of a dainty princess. The matchmaker tells Mulan that she will never bring honor to her family because she will never find a husband. Mulan overcomes the idea of a woman’s value lying in her husband by saving China. Mulan dresses as a man not because she believes women are valueless, but because she knows that the army will not accept a female. While at first she is a failure as a soldier, she eventually becomes one of the best in the army (if not the best), proving that women are just as able as men. Shang falls in love with Mulan not because of her helplessness or her physical form, but because she proves herself to be worthy of respect and admiration.
All five of these princesses are wonderful role models. They teach women to be intelligent, independent, and compassionate. They are respected as people, not treated as sex objects.
My next post will be about the princesses of the last decade.