Look Who’s Talking

Why Disney’s New Princess Movies Aren’t As Progressive As They Think They Are

If you have a daughter, you may have noticed she likes Disney princess movies — you’ve probably even watched a few of them with her, maybe once or twice or 8 gajillion times. And the studio’s trio of classics — Snow White, Cinderella, and Sleeping Beauty — were released back when cars had fins and were considered pretty progressive at the time because female lead characters weren’t all that common in Hollywood. Since then, Uncle Walt’s passed on, computers do a lot of the animating, and women in Disney’s movies have become … seriously under-represented. Wait, what?

That’s the conclusion of linguists Carmen Fought and Karen Eisenhauer, who recently examined the dialog in the original 3 and compared it to the more recent deluge of Disney princesses. Beginning with 1989’s The Little Mermaid, in which (spoiler!) spunky and daring Ariel literally loses her voice, Fought and Eisenhauer discovered the rest of Disney’s female characters started to do the same. From Beauty and the Beast to Mulan men end up with 3 times as many speaking lines as women. Even Frozen, a movie about 2 princesses, gives men 59 percent of the lines. To be fair, Aladdin should probably be given a pass because, as anyone who ever worked with him will tell you, it was impossible to get a word in edgewise when Robin Williams is in the studio.


As a general rule, these more recent princesses have been lauded for their independence and assertiveness. Brenda Chapman, the creator of Brave, says she set out specifically to smash the stereotype of the old Disney princess, who was usually obsessed with nothing beyond husband hunting. So what gives? Carelessness, according to the researchers. “Everybody who’s doing anything else beyond finding a husband, pretty much, is male,” says Eisenhauer. “When you want to add a shopkeeper, that shopkeeper is a man. Or you add a guard, that guard is a man. I think that’s just really ingrained in our culture.”

Over in the toy aisle, Barbie may have needed to exercise the nuclear option to finally join the new millennium, but the fix for Disney seems pretty simple: give the princesses some female sidekicks. Because, if Bridesmaids taught us anything, it’s that a Snow White with seven female dwarves would be hilarious.

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