Princess to Prince-less: How Disney has Reshaped its Animated Female Leads (Post 2)

May 18

I began the film analyzation stage of my project by screening and taking down observations on two of the four Disney princess films I am analyzing.  First I watched Beauty and the Beast (1991), and the following day I watched Frozen (2013).  In order to make thorough, organized observations, I payed attention to the five parts of parts of film: mise-en-scène, sound, shots, story, and editing.  After each screening, I reviewed my notes on the film and discussed them with my advisor, Professor Alexander Prokhorov.  The following is a brief selection of my thoughts on each film, as well as an initial comparison of the two films.

Most apparent to me in Beauty and the Beast is the amount of screen time, dialogue, and song given to the male character Gaston.  Though Belle is technically the main character, she is overshadowed her two potential love interests: the Beast and Gaston.  In fact, the cumulative moment of the film is the two men fighting a battle to the death, essentially a scene of violence that decides who will possess the pretty woman, while she watches.  This climatic display of heteronormative masculinity is unsurprising given the role of male characters easier in the film: Beauty and the Beast starts with a description of the Beast’s life before Belle, a narrative decision that immediately decreases Belle’s importance as a character.  She is second in the narrative, and when she is introduced, so is Gaston, who is always the initiator of action, whereas Belle only reacts.  Finally, for me the most obvious juxtaposition of the characterization of women and men is in how the Belle addresses to the magic mirror versus how the Beast addresses it.  Belle says timidly, “I’d like to see my father, please,” yet the Beast orders assertively, “show me the girl.”  It was impressive to me that an inanimate object, used for the same purpose (to spy on people), could be spoken to in such different tones and words.

The opening soundtrack of Frozen is the voices of a female choir, which immediately stuck out to me, but then the first scene is men cutting ice, including the love interest of Anna.  I am curious if this is a trend in princess films: call the film a story about women, but make sure that the audience gets to know the men first.  Though the next scene allows the film to pass the Bechdel test by exploring the relationship between the two main female characters, Anna and Elsa, they are the only female characters, other than the sisters’ mother, who soon dies, and trolls.  Furthermore, the sisters soon part ways: Elsa’s magic makes her too frightening for society.  I actually saw parallels between the Beast and Elsa, both of whom are called monsters and see their community turn against them.  Yet, significantly, Elsa is a monster because she is a witch character, which calls to mind the traditional fairytale characterization of powerful, magical women as otherworldly and dangerous.  In what seems to be a metaphor for abandoning the restrictive expectations of society and rejecting emotional repression, Elsa runs away and sings “Let it Go,” though her action also seems to continue the idea that women are unable to handle responsibility.

Frozen was produced a little over twenty years after Beauty and the Beast, which came out at the start of the third wave of feminism.  It is perhaps unsurprising, then, that the films’ presentations of female characters are noticeably different.  Beauty and the Beast is a story of romantic love with a some fatherly love, but Frozen is a story of sisterly love and only a dash of romantic love.  Love is even explicitly defined in the dialogue, as “putting someone else’s needs before your own,” a definition that contradicts the selfishness of the Beast in imprisoning Belle.  Another glaring difference I noticed was a relatively minor detail: in the “Be Our Guest” scene in Beauty and the Beast, Belle is showered with food, yet she barely nibbles on it.  In Frozen, there is a moment when Anna shamelessly shoves chocolate in her face.  Though Anna and Elsa are just as extremely slim as previous princesses, it is significant that Frozen shows women being messy and eating like normal people.  In conclusion, Frozen rejects the opportunity for violence between men in a scene near the end, when Anna, Kristoff, and Elsa see the villain Hanz.  Kristoff reacts by starting to walk towards Hanz as though to attack him, but Anna stops him.  She then ends up punching Hanz herself.  Such an action would be unthinkable coming from Belle; it is a definitive moment of female agency in Frozen, made possible by Anna’s headstrong characterization.

The next step will be to screen Pocahontas (1995) and Moana (2016).  I am curious to see if Moana, released just three years after Frozen, will go farther in its attempt to present a feministic plot and realistic female characters.


  1. albrenner says:

    I really like your analysis of how Belle was offered food and merely nibbles it, while Anna was not afraid to eat in a more messy fashion that’s much more realistic. But you mention how Anna and Elsa still have the same slim and unrealistic body types as every Disney princess before them. This concerns me how even with the progress on creating more realistic Disney characters, we still haven’t reached the point where not every princess has incredibly unrealistic body standards for girls. All of them have the same hourglass figure with nearly nonexistent waists. I would be interested in analyzing different characters’ body types in relation to their personalities. It seems like all the sweet, kind, and leading women in animated movies are thin and beautiful, while the “bad guys” tend to be ugly with features like warts on their faces or crooked noses and teeth. I think that creates the illusion that one’s personality is linked to their beauty. I’m looking forward to your analysis of Moana too see if in our most recent films if there has been any improvement or change.