Princess to Prince-less: How Disney has Reshaped its Animated Female Leads (Abstract)

The purpose of my research is to see how the characterization of women in Disney Princess films has changed since the beginning of the third wave of feminism, through the analysis of four animated films produced by Walt Disney Animation Studios.

I am analyzing two sets of princess films: one set from the beginning of the third wave of feminism (early to mid-1990s) and one set of the most recently released films.  I will focus on analyzing the agency of the films’ main female characters, particularly regarding how their actions are effected by romance and their relationships with men.  As each set of films includes a princess of color and a caucasian princess, I will additionally discuss Disney’s portrayal of women of color from a feminist perspective.

The first set of films is Beauty and the Beast (1991) and Pocahontas (1995).  The second set is Frozen (2013) and Moana (2016).  In my research, I will draw on the works of Laura Mulvey, a pioneering feminist film theorist, and Fatimah Tobing Rony, who has examined representations of indigenous people in film.  As part of my analysis, I will look at the films’ scripts in order to examine their usage of language as determined by gender politics (i.e., the roles and relations of women and men).

Disney has great influence not only in the American film industry, but also generally on cultures around the world.  Walt Disney Animation Studios can therefore either perpetuate the desensitization to women’s lack of agency, or challenge that trend.  My research applies to parents everywhere who may question whether or not to show their children Disney Princess films for fear of sexist, patriarchy-based portrayals of women.

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