Ever since Uncle Walt gambled and won with Snow White in 1937, the Disney corporation has used its famous Disney princesses to rule the hearts of young girls the world over. It’s the kind of cultural juggernaut that keeps an empire afloat and even today, the first thing so many little girls want to be is a princess.
Over the years, cultural critics have taken aim at the values Disney movies, particularly the princess ilk, have tacitly endorsed through the implications of their characters and stories. A great summary of these criticisms can be found in the documentary Mickey Mouse Monopoly.
Thinking about it, it shouldn’t be a surprise that Disney princesses have a spotty track record for not being the best role models. Some of the most enduring princess films come to us from the 1950s or earlier, and those with any creative control at Disney would have been mostly, if not exclusively, men. The kind of men who wouldn’t think anything of a female protagonist spending the entire movie waiting for a man to solve all her problems.
To their credit, a lot of the newer Disney movies suggest that its studios have taken these criticisms into account. From Mulan to The Princess and the Frog to Frozen, we’re not only seeing Disney heroines with actual agency, but we’re also seeing them come from more diverse and interesting backgrounds.
Still, as long as the classics endure, we need to keep reminding ourselves to have this conversation so the more toxic elements of the past don’t enter our children’s heads unchallenged.
That’s why we’re going to look at eight Disney princesses that we can learn from, but not necessarily as role models.