From children to adults, we embrace the fantasy worlds as good life companions – whether to escape a little from our reality or even reflect and deal with it – making these worlds great timeless successes, like the classics of children’s literature. It is virtually impossible to say that the Disney Magic World it has not marked generations through its adaptations and productions all over the world, and it would not be strange to say this when referring to its line of princesses frequently present in the media and in the most varied commercial sectors.
From the oldest principal maidens, such as Snow White and Cinderella, to the most recent ones, such as those of the production, among other secondary characters, Disney portrays values and social characteristics for their times through their works. This portrait is often exposed and internalized as a reference of behavior, beauty and an example of femininity in the lives of many women during their development.
The disposition of the female image, initially stereotyped, both aesthetically and behaviorally, over the years, technological and social advances have given prominence to a revolution in fairy tale scenarios. Without losing its charm and imagery references, princesses or not, sweet helpless maidens started to make room for bold, adventurous and even heroic women, providing us with inspiring, magical and, of course, very funny stories.
From this, it is possible to list emblematic characters of classic Disney animations for female empowerment in view of their temporal context and their origin. Let’s see below about some of them, according to the year of debut and the place where the animation takes place.
Flagship Disney Princesses and Their Origins
Bela (1991), France
As the 5th princess in the debut chronology, Nice she is not the first to go against a system imposed on her society – as Ariel (1989) did when she rebelled against her father for banning music from her kingdom – but, nevertheless, she brings in her trajectory wit and the audacity to be ahead of its time.
A young peasant woman, whose ambition is to leave the countryside, dedicates herself to books, rejects the village stallion and helps her father with crazy inventions – even submits to a private prison with the Beast to save him. Although, in the end, she ended up marrying the prince and consolidating that old cliché – some criticisms put her relationship with the Beast into perspective as a reflection of the Stockholm syndrome -, Bela leaves us with the lesson that women should be smart and think by itself, giving light greetings to feminist airs.
Jasmine (1992), Arabia
Jasmine, birth princess, arrived with a big news: Disney’s first non-Caucasian princess. In addition to the change of scenery and origin of the character (leaving Europe), Jasmine comes along with a pet tiger to impose his will, being the first to deny a marriage arranged by his father with one who became his enemy, Jafar.
Determined, with a spirit of independence and a desire to see the world outside the palace, the princess gains the freedom to marry the one she loves and, in (2019), the feat of becoming a sultan. “I am not a prize to be won” is one of his striking lines.
Pocahontas (1995), USA
Pocahontas, daughter of a chief of tribe, brings the representation of an Amerindian, being also the first plot based on a true story. Pocahontas has the courage to protect his people, owns his own destiny and refuses to have a hero. It is practically a representation of ecofeminism, as it links the issue of equality with nature in balance.
Esmeralda (1996), France
Representing Roma and having a unique beauty, Esmeralda clearly fights against social injustice, discrimination against minorities and the marginalization of her people.
Free, sensual and unabashed, the gypsy faces the old judgment about her “vulgar” behavior and breaks romantic precepts by recognizing the love of a friend (Quasimodo) and not being able to respond to it. In particular, Esmeralda is one of Disney’s most iconic figures regarding social causes and feminism.
Megara (1997), Ancient Greece
Dodging the curve of a good girl, the first appearance of the surrounding, sarcastic and lovingly disillusioned Mégara occurs through a scene of harassment, where she makes fun of her “savior” (Hercules).
Meg got in trouble when selling her soul to Hades in exchange for the life of her boyfriend who, after being saved, left her for another woman … in the quest to get her freedom back, she joins the villain to try to overthrow Hercules, for whom ends up falling in love after seduction games and realizing that, in fact, he admires her for being as she is.
Mulan (1998), China
As the first Asian in the line and the first to definitely not have a hero, Mulan he disguised himself as a man to join the Chinese army in place of his father, already weakened by previous wars. Courageous and fearless, Mulan trains hard to overcome his limits, achieve his goals and honor his family in some way.
The animation brings up gender issues, such as social construction, and the discussion about the inferiorization of women by traditions. For anyone who doubted Mulan’s ability, the answer was simple: she saves China.
Nani Pelekai (2002), USA
As responsible for a small and strange Hawaiian family, Nani Pelekai does everything to raise her sister Lilo by herself. With the arrival of her newest “dog”, Stitch, some problems with the little Elvis Presley fan and the difficulty of staying in a job, she is in danger of losing custody of the child. But, by ohana (meaning family), Nani is even capable of facing aliens.
Tiana (2009), USA
As the first black and humble princess from the New Orleans suburb, Tiana appears to star in a young waitress who works hard to earn her own money and makes her dream of a restaurant come true, where people from all over make huge lines to try your food.
After much effort and the adventure of being transformed into a frog, Tiana becomes a princess when she marries Prince Naveen, of Maldonia, and gains partners in the realization of her dream.
Rapunzel (2010), Germany
Princess of birth, but kidnapped, Rapunzel spent her life confined in a tower studying, painting, playing and learning everything that was possible until her 18th birthday, when she decided to run away to see the floating lanterns.
In an adventure of discovering the world, its capabilities and its true history, Rapunzel resignifies symbols commonly associated with the folk figure of “what it means to be a woman”: beautiful hair and pots. She develops several skills with her magic hair, which shines when she sings (has healing power), in addition to revolutionizing safety with the adaptation of a frying pan as a weapon.
Merida (2012), Scotland
Born in medieval Scottish royalty, the Princess Merida (), arrives with a beauty different from that used until then and a more “loose” style, with behaviors socially related to a boy.
Young and authentic, Merida uses her love and incredible skill with a bow and arrow to save herself from an arranged marriage with the son of one of the friendly clan leaders. She abuses the requirements to compete for her hand and compete for her own destiny. After much confusion, Valente gains his parents’ understanding and freedom of choice, even influencing other clan leaders to let their children choose their destinies.
Elsa (2013), Arendelle
The owner of the magical powers that develop the plot by allowing her to bring the ice to life. Since she was little, Elsa lived surrounded by fear: she had to hide her powers instead of learning to master them and she had to leave her sister after an incident. Having her powers revealed, she is forced to flee Arendelle to save her life.
The most beloved Snow Queen in the world brings sensuality, elegance, seriousness and a lot of empowerment in freeing herself, testing her limits, discovering her true essence and accepting the ability to rule the kingdom inherited from her late parents. Elsa also leaves us the lesson that true love is not necessarily in a prince, but in those we love in the most genuine way, in her case, her sister.
Moana (2016), Polynesia
The only daughter and successor to the chief of the Motonui tribe, Moana was chosen by the ocean to literally embark on a sea of adventures and restore the heart of Te Fiti, the island’s goddess, to save the island where she lives with her people.
In a leadership dilemma between following in her father’s footsteps and fulfilling her dream of being a traveler (going beyond the horizon), Moana brings us courage, intuition, confidence in her ancestors, love for a dream, for the family and the importance of self-discovery.