Disney Princesses And Snow White Essay Examples

Type of paper: Essay

Topic: Disney, Film, Cinema, Women, White, Snow, Culture, Beauty

Pages: 5

Words: 1375

Published: 2020/10/04

Final Project - The Values of Disney Princess Films

Since the 1940s, the Disney Corporation has established itself firmly as one of the most well-known and profitable media conglomerates in human history, contributing significantly to the world of children’s animation and popular culture (Towbin et al., 2003). Part of the central appeal of Disney’s film and animation studios include the ‘princess’ films, which are a certain sub-genre of Disney films which revolve around a typically female protagonist. These Disney princesses are often thought to be popular role models for young girls growing up, as their popularity leads to emulation and mirroring of their values and attributes (Towbin et al, 2006). However, what values are these Disney princess films imparting, particularly for young girls and people of color? While recent films in the Disney repertoire have been attempting to repair this fact, it remains clear that the vast majority of Disney princess films are overwhelmingly white and problematic in their treatment of female characters. Looking at general trends, and the films Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, The Princess and the Frog and Aladdin, Disney is shown to exoticize women of color and reinforce traditional gender norms in their treatment of princesses, making their overall messaging fairly troubling.

Looking at the vast majority of Disney Princess films, four main themes can be found in the female characters that populate them: these women focus on their appearance over their intelligence, feature a desire to be protected, value domesticity and marriage as major life goals, and look down on obese or overweight women (Towbin et al. 30). According to some studies, Disney princesses “were significantly more likely to be cooperative, nurturing, tending to their physical appearance, and troublesome” (England and Descartes 564). Even on a subtle level, most of these films value women on their appearance more than anything – thin women, such as the princesses, are shown to be good characters, whereas women who are fat or unattractive are bad people (like Ursula in The Little Mermaid, for example). These notions of womanhood are somewhat limiting, as it implies that there is only a certain, specific type of woman you are meant to be if you want to be a ‘princess.’
The first Disney princess film (and the first full-length animated feature in film history), Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, is an early example of this submissiveness. Snow White represents the prototypical thin white woman with all the characteristics typical of a Disney princess: she dresses in pastel colors, looks thin and fragile, and is extremely beautiful (Orenstein, 2006). Snow White’s passivity and femininity is extremely apparent in all aspects of the film, including her apple-cheeked, light skinned face, and her tendency to be pampered and proper. She has very little agency to speak of, just being the prize for a number of forces within the film – from the Witch to the Prince, and even the Dwarves. Her life goals are to marry a prince and find eternal happiness, which is shown to be through domesticity; she becomes the Dwarves’ housemaid in effect, as well as a mother figure. All the while, she pines away for her handsome prince to whisk her away to a better life, which simply contributes further to the strict, patriarchal ideals of women as being only good for housework and as a sexual commodity. Snow White, as her prim and demure self, became the model for all future princesses, showing that all a woman really needs is the right man to set her on the right path.
The problematic depiction of women in Snow White does not even limit itself to the protagonist; the evil Queen that acts as the villain of the film furthers the narrative that women are meant to compete with each other over ideas of sexual competition and overall beauty. The main motivation of the Queen is her jealousy over Snow White’s beauty and her own vanity, which puts the plot itself into motion. Snow White’s aesthetic beauty is seen as her most valued feature, which is then fought over – this establishes a pattern of women in conflict with each other over how well they appeal to men, which can serve to reinforce the traditional gender roles for young girls watching these films (Orenstein, 2006). Snow White’s patriarchal beginnings begin a tradition that continues through films like Sleeping Beauty, Beauty and the Beast, and The Little Mermaid, among others, with women being mostly preoccupied with fashion, horses and other such “feminine” interests that are often socialized into young girls (Orenstein, 2006).

Disney and Race

Not only are the depictions of women in Disney princess films troublesome, the depiction of race is all the more conspicuous in its relative absence. Up to this point, there have only been a few non-white Disney princess in films, and most of them are made as ‘white’ as possible in terms of appearance and cultural attributes. Studies have shown that the majority of Disney princess carry several trends about race and culture: minority characters are often negatively depicted, and are displayed in stereotype especially in terms of social class. The vast majority of cultures in Disney movies revolve around Christian or other Western-oriented cultures, and characters are grouped together by tastes and values that they have in common (Towbin et al. 32).
In terms of nonwhite Disney princess, the most fascinating and prominent example is in The Princess and the Frog from 2009, and its main character Tiana. The motivation for this film is almost certainly an attempt to correct prior accusations of whiteness, while also trying to make the Disney princess line of products and films more diverse. Tiana is one of the most closely linked to nonwhite culture as can be found in Disney films, as the movie’s setting is New Orleans in the 1920s – a vibrant, black-influenced culture. The production design of Princess and the Frog is filled with the normal aspects of Louisiana black culture, including swing and jzz music, which provide a different flavor to the musical numbers than the white pop-tinged songs that permeate most other Disney musical princess films. Instead of being a literal princess looking for love, Tiana’s primary motivation is just to own her own restaurant; this, along with the film’s primarily black cast, offers a somewhat viable alternative to the overwhelming whiteness of Disney princess films (England & Descartes, 2011).
In addition to this depiction, and others like Pocahontas and Mulan, another popular nonwhite Disney princess is Jasmine from 1992’s Aladdin. Because of the setting, she is meant to be of Middle Eastern/Arabic ethnicity, but she (and other characters in the film) are all voiced by white actors and actresses, and their Oriental nature is fairly downplayed. She does show a modicum of independence as a character as well, but she remains the stereotypical princess in a tower who must wait for Aladdin to save her in order to prove himself worthy of her, and much of the plot revolves around the Princess needing to find a Prince. Independent of her portrayal, Arabs in the rest of the film are also shown a degree of malice, with most Arab characters being shown to be dirt-covered thieves, cheap, tawdry swindlers and everyone willing to trick each other (Towbin et al. 32).

Works Cited

Aladdin. Dir. Ron Clements, John Musker. Perf. Scott Weinger, Robin Williams. Walt
Disney Pictures, 1992.
England, D. E., Descartes, L., & Collier-Meek, M. A. “Gender role portrayal and the
Disney Princesses.” Sex roles, 64(7-8) (2011): 555-567.
Orenstein, P. “What’s Wrong With Cinderella?”. The New York Times Magazine, 24, 2006.
The Princess and the Frog. Dir. Ron Clements, John Musker. Perf. Anika Noni Rose,
Bruno Campos. Walt Disney Pictures, 2009.
Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. Dir. David Hand. Perf. Adriana Caselotti. Walt
Disney Pictures., 1937.
Towbin, M. A., Haddock, S. A., Zimmerman, T. S., Lund, L. K., & Tanner, L. R. “Images of
Gender, Race, Age, and Sexual Orientation in Disney Feature-Length Animated Films.” Journal of Feminist Family Therapy, 15(4), (2003). 19-44.

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