Disney movies are arguably marketed to children. However, they have important lessons for children and adult audiences, especially in portraying female characters. The evolution of Disney is arguably tied to feminist activists championing for equality of genders as feminism considers the experiences of any person who has experienced oppression. Understanding feminism provides a good perspective to examine several Disney films and their evolution. This is because the film production company’s subtle changes have substantially impacted future generations and how they view equality of the sexes. Disney animations are arguably the largest that have focused on Princess Sequels and production of human characters, with the company boosting “(total movies until 2009 are 320 productions, human characters consist of 233, animal characters 87 movies)” (Iswalono and Arum 63), This makes the company one of the largest to considerably influence its audience, especially following the growth of animations films and their worldwide market. Like any digital media, Disney films influence perspectives, especially on women’s roles and how many women have been perceived, which has seen substantial changes. The large reception of Disney films can be examined using a feminist perspective. As a result, the changes observed in these films showcase how feminism, through several waves, has changed Disney’s animations.
Disney fairy tales indisputably have come to represent European culture, influencing their popularity due to the increased dominance of European cultures globally. However, Disney fairy tales have seen substantial criticism due to their representation of false womanhood, as these films have thrived on the notion that women rely on their beauty to find their ‘Prince Charming’ (Bruce 2). This attribute of Disney animations has been replicated in “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, and Aladdin” (Bruce 2). The representation of this false identity of women throughout Disney animations caused substantial backlash from feminists, as Disney thrived on the backs of women. This is because its representations of women in many of its films substantially reproduced mainstream assumptions of women and girls as weak, whose goals are often tied to men, such as their husbands and fathers. The need for the protagonists in these Disney animations to expect their married lives to be different and happy by their so-called ‘Prince Charming’ is a mockery of women and feminism. Thus, Disney animations have thrived on the reproduction of mainstream perspectives.
The changes observed in Disney animations are large because these mainstream perspective changes seemingly focused on women as strong and independent. Disney has slowly received women’s demand for equality with each wave of feminism. The third wave of feminism has seen substantial changes in these animations, especially relating to ‘Princesses.’ As Iswalono and Arum note, the changing women roles in the protagonist seem to adopt the third-wave feminism perspective, where “women are not only portrayed as weak and dependent” (Iswalono and Arum 72). The changes mark Disney’s ability to change with the current mainstream perspective, as each era of Disney fairy tales has been remarked to march the current perspective. Hence, Disney’s changes in their animations relating to their women characters, especially the protagonist, have been significantly influenced by each wave of feminism, as observed in the changes to women’s attributes in each of these films.
The Disney changes have been welcomed due to the changing views of our societies. Several Disney films seem to follow these substantial changes, with women protagonists and other women characters “given their own beliefs, characteristics, and flaws” (Xu 330). This shows the substantial influence of feminism in its latest wave that seems to push for equality, with women portrayed as equal to men in physical strength and mental agility, making them independent, as opposed to the traditional versions fashioned by Disney fairy tales. Disney portrays this substantial change in several films, such as “Tangled, Mulan, and Frozen” (Xu 327). For example, the protagonist, Mulan, can overpower “her male colleagues and defeat the Hans with her wit” (Xu 330). The changes Disney makes are evident as Mulan does not wait around to be saved by a ‘Prince Charming,’ as she saves her colleagues and the emperor. Disney’s characterization in “The 2021 film Raya and the Last Dragon” also changes, embracing this new wave of feminism. The protagonist and other women characters are characterized through physical strength, and intelligence attributes traditional thought to be only held by men. Therefore, feminism is taking Disney films by storm, notable for these significant changes to their women’s characterization.
Moreover, Disney’s changes are not isolated, representing the newest form of marketing feminism. This seems to be substantially replicated in other industries, which adjusted their perceptions of women and girls in society. Disney characters openly shun women’s domestication, as seen in traditional societies, where women were confined to their households. These mainstreams changes have also been gobbled up by Disney characterization seen in Pixar, such as when “Tangled’s opening song, “When Will My Life Begin?,” (Shiele et al. 7). The rejection of domestication is reiterated by our societies, with women taking up more jobs compared than previous years, especially in the 19th and 20th centuries. Disney’s changes are an outright reflection of our changing societies rather than the company’s efforts. Thus, Disney’s changes to women’s characterization have only been possible due to the changing nature of our societies forcing the company to reimagine its women characters, aligning them to these mainstream perceptions that characterize our modern societies.
Disney is arguably altering the nature and reception of women. Women have always been “the victim in the patriarchal society” (Maity 29). This is why women have always been synonymous with emotions, simple-mindedness, and the need to be domesticated (Maity 29). This is why Disney is taking steps to cement these changes observed in our societies that seemingly focus on the independence of women capable of working other than being tied to domestic work in their homes. These new adaptation women are seemingly given is also portrayed in other animations, such as DreamWorks Animation and The Boss Baby: Back in Business, in which Disney has exclusive distribution rights. The Boss Baby: Back in Business shows Tim, the protagonist being a stay home dad while his wife Carol works (IMDb). These reversed roles have been perfected by Disney, with women being showcased as strong independent women. Therefore, Disney is adapting to the new feminist perspective influenced by the third wave of feminism.
Disney has seemingly evolved to include new dimensions of feminism in their various animation films. The substantial changes from their traditional stereotypical views of women who needed a man to save them from the adversities in their lives have been scrapped. This is primarily because of the considerable influence of feminism, especially the third wave of feminism that has refocused women’s societal roles. The complete turnaround in Disney is portrayed in its latest movies, such as Mulan to “The 2021 film Raya and the Last Dragon,” among others. These latest Disney films have reimagined the characterization of women, with the films aligning with mainstream perceptions of women. Women are no longer weak, fragile, emotional, and dependent. This new characterization rightfully places women as individuals with strengths and flaws, just like men informing its audience. However, Disney’s changes, such as the rejection of women’s domestication, were its subtle way of marketing to the growing feminist audience increasing the company’s profit and audience. Therefore, despite Disney’s motivations to reimagine their women characters, they seem to shun their traditional stereotypical views towards these feminist views, as a testament to the changes Disney has made due to the continued wave of feminism in societies.
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