Film Feature: Princess Perceptions

This month, Disney’s latest princess film was revealed; Moana, set for release in 2016. The film was originally scheduled for 2018 but production was pushed forward after the overwhelming success of Disney’s latest princess film Frozen.

Moana will be an ethnic princess and although she won’t be the first, think Mulan and Jasmine, she will be the first in a while. Disney’s most recent heroines, Elsa and Anna from Frozen, Merida from Brave and Rapunzel from Tangled have seen a return to Disney’s usual, white feature characters so it will be refreshing to see a change here. However, despite the recent gravitation back towards the white, blonde princesses, Disney’s latest princesses are very different to the originals who, despite being the leading lady could hardly be called the ‘heroine’.

Don’t get me wrong I absolutely LOVE Disney films, especially the princess ones, I always have done. Nevertheless, the announcement of the new release got me thinking about all the previous princesses and how much the role of the Disney princess has changed since I was a child.

Sleeping Beauty was always my favourite Disney princess. As a child I wanted to be her and would often tell people I was called Aurora, but thinking about this now, was that a good thing? In Sleeping Beauty, Aurora spends the majority of the film asleep waiting for a kiss from her true love to wake her from her cursed slumber. She was a pretty passive character, the hero and lead here was definitely Prince Charming. My six year old self – and I know it wasn’t just me – was identifying with a character who was essentially dependant on a man. Maybe Sleeping Beauty wasn’t sending out the best message.

Even if your favourite Disney princess was Cinderella or Snow White, you were still in the same boat- looking up to a role model dependant on a man. Cinderella needed her Prince Charming to come and save her from her wicked stepmum and evil step-sisters while Snow White also required her Prince to wake her from her cursed sleep.

However, times have definitely changed. Take the mega successful Frozen for example, the film initially seems like your typical princess storyline: Princess Anna falls for handsome Prince Hans within an evening but PLOT TWIST, in this film Hans is the bad guy! When Anna is struck by her sister’s freezing power (long story), she inevitably needs an act of true love to save her, naturally she turns to Hans but it appears her love is unrequited. This is a pretty new idea for Disney, I mean who has ever heard of a princess not being loved by her designated prince?! In my opinion, I think this is a great message for a kid’s film as it shows that life isn’t always a fairytale, it has a real message. But wait, it’s not over yet! Of course, Disney can’t let the princess die so Anna turns to her new friend Kristoff. He may be poorer and less handsome than Hans but Anna decides she loves him nevertheless, again this is an important message as it strongly implies that looks and money don’t matter, it’s about personality – a message which was missing from the likes of Sleeping Beauty when it was always Prince Charming to the rescue. However, en route to be saved by Kristoff, Anna takes a detour to save her sister, Elsa, who is being attacked by a snow giant. It turns out that saving her sister is the exact act of true love that was required to save Anna, she didn’t even need a man! What a brilliant message Disney is sending out here: family is all you really need.

In the 109 minute run of Frozen, Disney manages to cover some pretty important messages that I guess would have been a bit controversial at the time of Cinderella. Personally, I’d love to hear little girls identifying with Anna and Elsa – characters who put their family before themselves and aren’t dependant on a man, real heroines who do a bit more than sleep for the duration. I feel the new direction that Disney has headed with Frozen is a really positive one and so, I’m pretty excited to see where they go with Moana.

[Heather McCorriston]

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