Disney Princess and Disney Villainess Film Analysis


Identify the Villainess and discuss the ways in which she does or does not adhere to the classic villainess traits by applying the following quote from the author Henke.

Must reference at least one article from module.

Reference the following quote from the author Henke:

Disney’s evil females are magnificent in their strength, presence, and rage. Visually, they loom large and dark on screen as they trick, manipulate, and threaten. They control others’ opinions, and access to money, shelter and relationships with men. These evil females are often alienated from their communities. In Disney tales, evil women are motivated by the desire to have what isn’t theirs- purity, beauty, acceptance, love” – Henke from “Constructions of the Female Self”

*Note- to reference or to apply a quote means to provide evidence that does or does not support the quote. You can refute or agree with the statement.


(A+) 50 =

Synthesis and analysis:

Shows thoughtfulness and independent thinking by developing response beyond lecture, readings, discussion.; Two specific and relevant examples are cited; Explanations that support the answer are thoughtful and articulate in 4 paragraphs.


45-49= Understanding:

Shows a clear understanding of the material presented in lecture, readings, discussion.; Two specific and relevant examples are cited; Explanations that support the answer are thoughtful and articulate in 4 paragraphs.


40-44= Memorization and repetition:

Shows the ability to correctly REPEAT the basic material as presented in lecture, readings, discussion.; Two examples are cited; Explanations that support the answer are UNCLEAR in 3-4 paragraphs.

(C) 35-39= Awareness:

Shows some familiarity with course material but does not accurately refer to material from lecture, readings, discussion.; One example is cited; Explanations that support the answer are UNCLEAR in 3 paragraph.



= Effort:

Attempted work but does not demonstrate basic awareness of material from lecture, readings, discussion; One example is cited; Explanations are underdeveloped in 2 paragraphs


<30 Lack of Effort:

Attempted work. Does not address material from lecture, readings, discussion; No


articles and module are attached or links down below

there are 6




Journal of Literature and Art Studies, January 2018, Vol. 8, No. 1, 53-57
doi: 10.17265/2159-5836/2018.01.006
Gender Politics in the Projection of “Disney” Villains
Tania Sharmin, Sanyat Sattar
Jahangirnagar University, Dhaka, Bangladesh

Disney being one of the most influential media giants in the world, attracting both young and adults equally and
creating memorable characters for almost 80 years, has introduced some memorable villain characters. But
interestingly, the projection of male and female villains is rather different and often questionable. This paper aims
to investigate how the evil characters have an unequal projection in terms of their gender roles.
Keywords: villain, gender, animation, masculinity, gender-bending
Most of the heroes and heroines of the Disney franchise films fell in love, get married to live happily ever
after. They reveal stereotypical and exaggerated portrayals of a traditionally gendered appearance that attracts an
equally stereotypical character of the other sex. The female villains of Disney films, however, offer a distinct
pattern through appearance and behavior, which is quite different from the hyper-heterosexual heroes and
heroines, and also from their male counterparts. Obviously the villains need to be different and creepy to
differentiate themselves from the protagonists, but when it comes to female villains (i.e. villainess) the
projection is rather problematic.
Appearance Matters
A proliferation of stereotypically female behaviors, pre-occupations with domestic work, as well as an
affinity for animals is a typical feature for most of the princess characters in Disney animations, who are
portrayed as “ultra-feminine.” Characters like Aurora, Cinderella, Belle, Tiana, Rapunzel, Snow White are
expert in singing and dancing, and are seemingly enjoying their household chores. These traditional female
behaviors are used as standardized portrayal of femininity and beauty.
Disney heroes play a smaller part than their princess; however, they do embody normative characteristics
in their appearance and behavior. Taller than each respective princess, broad-shouldered, square-jawed, and
muscular, their attributes become standardized heterosexual male physical characteristics. They also participate
in “manly” activities, such as horseback riding, hunting, sailing, sword-fighting, and even hand-to-hand combat,
when necessary.
Dramatic and daring, the villains often outperform their rivals, setting up a transparent comparison
between “normative” and “deviant” gendered behaviors, with sarcasm, selfishness, cruelty, greed, and brutality.
Tania Sharmin, Assistant Professor, Department of English, Jahangirnagar University.
Sanyat Sattar, Ph.D., Professor, Department of English, Jahangirnagar University.
According to Ollie Johnston, and Frank Thomas 55% of Disney film villains are either women or “feminized
men” and among them 25% are emaciated. Three out of the four of them are in fact old, ugly and unattractive.
This is also substantiated by the movie plots where the female villains almost never appear desirable or beautiful
in the eyes of the opposite sex. This associates villainy in females with unattractiveness and undesirability
especially, comparing to the slenderness, fairness, and youth of female heroines who are almost essentially
portrayed as the epitomes of beauty.
Male villains are also mostly portrayed obese and burly. But large men unlike large women are not
necessarily unattractive as per the visual concept of beauty. If we consider Disney animation into account it can
be seen that several male villainous characters such as Gaston from The Beauty and the Beast and Governor
Ratcliff from Pocahontas are not ugly looking men. On the contrary they project similar vigour and
handsomeness that the male protagonists do in the individual films. Male villains also tend to have various
stylized features such as facial hair (Captain Hook), pointed teeth (Hades) or hawk-like eyes (Shan-yu), long hair
with blue eyes (Gaston).
Prince Hans Westergaard of the Southern Isles is the main antagonist of Disney’s 53rd full length animated
feature film, Frozen. Appearance wise, this character is outstandingly handsome, and for some extend more
handsome and dashing than the hero of the story. This also shows how the male villains are being projected in this
recent Disney project.
The ideas that many Disney films portray regarding appearance is generally that set by the hegemonic
standards of beauty, which is not the case with the female villains. On the other hand, a villainous appearance
does not have such paramount in determining the desirability of a male. Most female villains are generally
designed to look unattractive. For many female villains, highly identifiable features that usually denote
femininity are hidden, designed to be misshapen, or are made to look grossly terrible. Ursula, the Sea Witch in
The Little Mermaid, is a huge black and purple octopus, with styled white hair standing straight up, large eyes
with deeply painted lids of blue and gray, and incredibly arched eyebrows. Her huge lips and nails are painted
bright red, and she has a “beauty mark” mole on her right cheek. Her makeup, saggy jowls and large breasts
create a vaguely female, voluptuous figure; however the exaggeration of those features, combined with her
deep voice and overtly sexualized body movements suggests something much more masculinized. The Disney
Villain remarks that “when we first see her in the film, we are appalled at her appearance, and realize that here
is someone to be reckoned with.”
Ursula’s queerness subverts gender categories thus turning this female witch into “a multiple
cross-dresser,” who destabilises gender through her excess and theatricality. When Ursula suggestively tells
Ariel to use “body language” to attract Prince Eric, Ursula’s overweight body and tentacles, her deep voice, and
the excessive, sexualized shimmies are reminiscent of a drag queen on stage.
The one method Disney employs to render a female character unattractive is by de-feminizing her. While
Yzma and Madame Medusa have misshapen breasts, The Tremaine stepsisters from Cinderella are shown to be
largely flat-chested, a contrast to the beautiful Cinderella whom they are jealous of. Sometimes, other common
associations with beauty and femininity are often removed from female villains.
Triviality in Action
In many of the cases some female characters are portrayed to “turn into” villains for very trivial matters. The
evil queen in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs is shown to be evil for her beauty; that is because she wants
herself to be the “fairest of all.” Lady Tremaine in Cinderella is shown to be rude and cruel to her stepdaughter.
Tremaine’s disdain for her kind-hearted stepdaughter leads her to sabotage Cinderella’s ongoing efforts at getting
close to prince charming. And the only reason is because Cinderella is pretty, beautiful and likable by all. In
Tangled, an adaptation of Rapunzel, we see Mother Gothel to be stealing baby Rapunzel and hide her in a tower
only to keep Mother Gothel young and beautiful. In 101 Dalmatians, the villain is Cruella De Ville, the
middle-aged villain, wants to kill the puppies in order to design a dog-skin fur coat. Cruella, who is truly cruel and
materialistic, is less attractive, less intelligent and more aggressive.
There are many familiar characters in the long line of Disney animations such as the evil queen, Ursula,
Cruella De Ville, Madame Medusa, Lady Tremaine, The Queen of Hearts, Yzma, and many more. Yet, there is
rather less variety in the projection of any of these characters. All of them are suffering from almost similar
predicaments. Which is not quite the case in terms many of the evil male villains such as Gaston, Hades, Captain
Hook, Dr. Facilier, and Professor Ratigan and so on.
According to the survey conducted by Debra Bradley, it is found that as for the female villains, the top
motive is jealousy/vanity (28%) and inherent evil (27%). This is very different from motives of male villains as
only 4% are driven by jealousy/vanity and interestingly only 8% are driven by inherent evil. On the contrary most
of the male villains are driven by wealth (38%) and power (33%), which may refer to status symbols often
associated with patriarchal masculinity.
Masculinized Women and Feminized Men
Many of the female Disney villains are subtly masculine—their faces, body shape, and behavior lend
“mannish” traits to their characters. In portraying them this way, the villains contrast sharply with the
ultra-feminine princesses.
The transgression of gender roles occurs in many Disney films, most notably in the Princess series, but
also in animal-themed films as well. Specifically, several villainous female characters are masculinized in
distinct ways, for example the stepmother and stepsisters in the Cinderella series and Ursula in The Little
Mermaid. However, the gender-bending traits appear within male villains as well, as they are given feminine
traits—some bordering on an implicit homosexual characterization. Specifically, The Lion King’s Scar,
Aladdin’s Jafar, become womenized villains. When transgendered qualities are marked as only apparent in evil
characters, then a stigmatized standard of normative behavior is being created and promoted. Meredith
Li-Vollmer and Mark E. LaPointe (2003) indicate in their article “Gender Transgression and Villainy in
Animated Film,” that “Gender is established and sustained by socially required identificatory displays; through
interaction, gender is continually exhibited or portrayed, and thus comes to be seen as ‘natural’” (p. 190).
Whether the case is with masculinized women or womanized men, ultimately it undermines the women.
Female Villains and Their Audience
Children, 8-13 years of age, who view television cartoons in a study by Bell and Haas recognize that the
cartoon characters exhibit stereotypical gender role behaviors. They also find that males outnumber females on
Saturday morning cartoons. More important than their numbers, though is the fact that male characters are
portrayed in a much greater variety of roles and occupations. Female characters are seen as housewife-mother,
girlfriend, grandmother, aunt villain’s daughter, maid, nanny, nurse, secretary, waitress, TV reporter, and
circus-performer, cheer girls and witch (mostly). They conclude, “Television portrayal of the sexes in cartoons
did not reflect real world values concerning traditional gender-role assumptions.” (p. 20)
Maleficent VS Maleficent
“Sleeping Beauty” is a classic fairy tale written by Charles Perrault and the Brothers Grimm, which involves
a beautiful princess, a sleeping enchantment, and a handsome prince. The 1959 animated version of the story
portrays the villain Maleficent, as an obviously wicked character. It has been said that Maleficent is Disney’s
most evil villain of all times. The untold past, present or future of this character, or having no “serious” logical
explanation for her cursing the princess makes Maleficent more complex as a character. Maleficent transforms
into a dragon to finally kill the prince charming is to save the princess with his kiss. Like the recent phenomenon
in Disney franchising their old animated films into live action cinema, the 2014 version of Maleficent portrays
quite a different perspective of the said character. Here the famous villain has a story to tell and does not simply
appear from nowhere and start cursing. It is shown that the character Maleficent became evil for a specific
reason—a horrible betrayal. She is shown to have a softer side of the heart when she cries over the loss of her
wings. She even feels sorry for Princess Aurora whom she cursed with a spell and later even wants to free Aurora
from it. This is because Maleficent knows that the criminal is King Stephan who betrayed her and took away her
wings. She realizes that the princess is innocent, but tolerates the wrath of Maleficent due to her (Princess) father.
Even, at last Aurora’s spell is broken by the sincere love of Maleficent for her, but not by the true kiss of the
prince. The audience feels sorry for this Maleficent, instead of hating her.
As discussed earlier Disney female villains are projected either ridiculous or ugly. However, the 2014
version of Maleficent is rather attractive, even though she carries horns and giant wings. This indeed is a big leap
as far as the projection of Disney villains are in concern.
In these ways, female villains become more and more separated from their dainty heroines, and their
carefully-crafted creepiness depends on a distinct division from traditionally feminized characteristics. It is
understandable that the villains would appear distinctly different, but the repeated portrayal of the women as
hideous villains concerned with triviality does make the whole idea questionable.
Disney films are often regarded as harmless family entertainment—one in which members of all ages are
welcome to enjoy. As such, the female villains and their male counterparts offer an interesting contrast to each
other that conveys a problematic message about gender and difference that is being sent consistently conveyed
to Disney’s child viewers.
Ashliman, D. L. (2009). “Cinderella.” Grimm Brothers’ Home Page. Original by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, 1857.
Bell, E., Haas, L., & Sells, L. (1995). Introduction: Walt’s in the movies. From mouse to mermaid: The politics of film, gender, and
culture (pp. 1-20). Bloomington: Indiana University Press.
Bradley, D. (1995). Disney gives pocahontas sexiest cartoon image ever. Dallas Morn-ing News, The Free-Lance Star, June 23,
Disney Villains. (2010). Retrieved from http://www.disneyvillains.net/
England, D., & Descartes, L. (2008). Gender role portrayal and the Disney Princesses. University of Connecticut. April 19,. Honors
Thesis Poster Pres- entation. 12 January 2010. http://www.familystudies.uconn.edu/undergraduate/honors
Hill, J. (2007). Jim Hill Media, “Why (For) Pat Carroll Wasn’t Actually Disney’s First Choice to Voice Ursula in ‘The Little
Jacobs, I. S., & Bean, C. P. (1963). Fine particles, thin films and exchange anisotropy. In G. T. Rado and H. Suhl (Eds.), Magnetism
(Vol. III) (pp. 271-350). New York: Academic..
Johnston, O., & Thomas, F. (1993). The Disney Villain. Hyperion: New York.
Li-Vollmer, M., & LaPointe, M. E. (2003). Gender transgression and villainy in animated film. Popular Communication, 1(2),
Lowrey, S. (2007). “I’ll Glitter.” Fuchsia Focus: A Queer Critique of the Media. Retrieved from
PFLAG: Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays. “About Our Transgendered Children.” Out of the Closet Into Our
Hearts. February 25, 2007. Retrieved from http://www.criticspflag.com
RAINN: Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network. “Statistics.” 2009. http://www. rainn.org/statistics
Tanner, L. R., et al. (2003). Images of couples and families in Disney feature-length animated films. American Journal of Family
Therapy, 31(5), 355. Academic Search Premier. EBSCO.
Towbin, M. A., et al. (2003). Images of gender, race, age, and sexual orientation in Disney feature-length animated films. Journal of
Feminist Family Therapy, 15(4), 19-44. Academic Search Premier. EBSCO.
Voicing ‘Scar’ in The Lion King—Jeremy Irons. June 05, 2009. http://www.youtube.com/ watch?v=apJxdRYI32Y
Willman, C. (1994). You can’t hide his lion eyes. Originally in Los Angeles Times. Reprinted in Irons Ink: Press Archive. 15 May
1994. http://www.jeremy-irons.com /press/archive/18.html
Yorozu, Y., Hirano, M., Oka, K., & Tagawa, Y. (1987). Electron spectroscopy studies on magneto-optical media and plastic
substrate interface (J. Magn. Trans.). IEEE, 2, 740-741.
Intertextual Transformation of A Fairy Tale From Sleeping Beauty to Maleficent
Bir Peri Masalının Metinlerarası Dönüşümü
Uyuyan Güzel’den Malefiz’e
Gönderim Tarihi: 20.07.2017
Kabul Tarihi: 25.08.2017
Ayşe Melda ÜNER*
ABSTRACT: In 1959 Disney released their movie Sleeping Beauty based on the tale by the
same name, arranged by Charles Perrault. It is a classic fairy tale. That is to say it describes
a world in which the good are always kind hearted. As expected they never lose the battles
against the strongest enemies and they live happily forever. In this world the bad are evil
hearted. They are extremely cruel characters. They always appear to be enjoying their
wicked doings. However their true story is never told, the audience are not eager to hear
it either. They are more concerned about the happiness of the good characters. Fifty-five
years later, in 2014 Disney came up with another movie, Maleficent. What is remarkable
here is that by employing intertextual relationship, they managed to retell the same story
building it on the villain, making the bad character, Maleficent of the old fairy tale the focal
point of the movie. The audience are reminded of the worthiness of her story too. They are
urged to question their perception of good and bad. Apparently Maleficent does manage to
bring a new insight to its audience. This study compares Disney’s 1959 movie, Sleeping Beauty,
with the 2014 version namely, Maleficent which has been written in postmodern but highly
original style. The long and winding road from classic view to postmodern approach has
been explored in relation to the intertextual transformation within the context of a fairy-tale.12
Keywords: Intertextual Relationship, Sleeping Beauty, Maleficent.
ÖZ: Disney’in 1959 tarihli Uyuyan Güzel filmi, aynı adlı masalın Charles Perrault tarafından
düzenlenmiş versiyonudur. Klasik bir peri masalıdır bu. Yani, iyilerin kalbinin daima iyilikle dolu olduğu, büyük zorluklarla, güçlü düşmanlarla savaşıp galip geldikten sonra sonsuza
kadar mutlu yaşadıkları bir dünyayı anlatır. Kötülerin kalbi ise daima kötülük için atmakta* Assoc. Prof. Dr., Yeditepe University/Faculty of Arts and Sciences/Turkish Language and Literature
Department. unermelda@hotmail.com, ORCID ID: orcid.org/0000-0001-6584-9396
The author would like to express her deepest gratitude to Chemical Engineer Assoc. Prof. Dr. Murat Soylu
for his kind support and most valuable comments during the writing and editing of the English text.
Balıkesir University The Journal of Social Sciences Institute
Volume: 20 – Issue: 38, December 2017
Balıkesir Üniversitesi Sosyal Bilimler Enstitüsü Dergisi
dır. Son derece acımasız tiplerdir. Kötülük yapmaktan zevk alır gibi görünürler. Onların asıl
hikâyesinden hiç bahsedilmez. Seyirci de onlarla ilgilenmez. Düşünce ve duygularının arka
planını merak etmez. İyilerin mutluluğa ulaşmasını bekler heyecanla. İşte Disney, Uyuyan
Güzel’den metinlerarası ilişkinin ilginç bir türünü kullanarak yeniden ürettiği 2014 tarihli
Malefiz’de klasik masalın kötü karakterini merkezine koyar. Onun hikâyesini anlatır. Bu
hikâyenin de merak edilesi olduğunu hatırlatır seyirciye. Seyircinin iyilik-kötülük üzerine
zihninde oluşmuş ön kabulleri sorgulatır. Sonunda da yerle bir eder bunları. Bu çalışmada
metinlerarası dönüşüm bağlamında Disney’in 1959 yapımı olan peri masalı Uyuyan Güzel
çizgi filmi ile ondan yola çıkılarak postmodern bir yaklaşımla kaleme alınmış ve özgün
olmayı başarmış 2014 tarihli Malefiz karşılaştırılmıştır. Bu iki filmin kurgusu çerçevesinde
klasikten postmoderne giden yolun kıvrımlarını keşfetmek, incelemek ve değerlendirmek
Anahtar Kelimeler: Metinlerarası İlişki, Uyuyan Güzel, Malefiz.
Classic literature promises the reader a world full of hope. Bright tomorrows
will certainly be reached, as long as belief in God exists and ethical norms
are followed. In literary works reflecting this understanding time, place, and
characters are openly fictionalized. The distinction between good and bad,
consequently the good and the bad people is quite obvious. The goodness of the
good and the evil of the bad are birth given and have no borders. There should
be no questioning about why this is so. It must be accepted as characteristic
features that cannot change. Most of the time the narrator is the third person
omniscient. He has godlike powers so it is not surprising that he happens to
know about everything.
However time has changed the political and social perceptions, certainly
reflected in literature as well. After world has gone through lots of changes,
the wars wipe away any good feeling left in people causing great distress and
hopelessness. Having thus reached modernism, the bright tomorrows are now
a dream that can never become true. Beliefs are shaken. The notion of goodness
torn apart. World has turned into a dark place. Literature takes its share of
this era. Suffering, tears and deep unhappiness pour out of all written works.
Brand new expression techniques are discovered to reflect these feelings and
thoughts. The narrator changes. The third singular person, but not omniscient
or occasionally the character himself talks to the reader as the first singular
person. He does not know everything contrary to the classic era. He even says,
he knows nothing. Chaos grows.
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Cilt: 20 – Sayı: 38, Aralık 2017
Intertextual Transformation of A Fairy Tale From Sleeping Beauty to Maleficent
Then the world marches to postmodernism. Surely the literature too. Yes, it is
not easy to be full of hope and yet not impossible either. The conflicts can be
resolved if questioning is allowed. What is goodness? Who is good? And who
is bad? Are the hero and the villain as much opposite characters as generally
believed? Is the goodness of the good and the evil of the bad never to change?
Right at this point, to understand and perceive the reasons behind and reaching
at sound conclusions are of utmost importance. Story telling techniques are
plenty, narrators different and the expectations from the reader at its peak. The
reader now has the responsibility to deeply question what he reads, even sees
and to find his way in the labyrinth of life by employing his wisdom, logic, and
feelings in the best possible way. He has to pursue this effort even if he fails at
times, determined not to be overtaken by hopelessness.
This is at last the time that long forgotten genres of classic literature have the
chance of getting back to daylight. Fairy tales are the most naive and sweet
ones among them. They are ready to be rewritten with a postmodern view.
Regardless of our age, we are all drawn into the magical world of classic fairy
tales with their extraordinary characters. The events begin in a happy and
peaceful setting at a time many, many years ago. This ideal world gives hope
but later a tragedy happens and the dramatic conflict emerges. However these
tales do not sadden the reader. Good characters spread happiness starting
from the moment of their birth. They behave in the best possible way in line
with the universal ethical rules whatever the circumstances may be. They are
never taken over by feelings like jealousy, rebellion, hatred and revenge. They
never stop striving for the best for all people. They are so kind hearted that
they can even forgive their enemies. They even do not mind dying for the
cause. When they are faced with the hardest ordeals they never stumble and
never do wrong even for a second. The bad characters have no boundaries
for their evil acts. They are always at planning or doing something bad. They
enjoy darkness. The reader expects that at the end of the tale they will take
their lesson and be punished. The reasons behind their greed and hateful
feelings are never questioned. In fact these ancient tales address the feelings
rather than the rational thoughts. Thus the reader is filled with goodness, love
and care, and is reminded of the importance of struggling for a better, more
peaceful and happier world.
However the world is not the same any more. It keeps changing. Political and
social balance is naturally expected to change too. Classical understanding
loses its dominance. People find themselves in a struggle of coping with the
problems of existence. Reaching the modernism era feelings, absolute belief,
and hope are gone instead worries, questions and time to time despair and
Balıkesir University The Journal of Social Sciences Institute
Volume: 20 – Issue: 38, December 2017
Balıkesir Üniversitesi Sosyal Bilimler Enstitüsü Dergisi
deep sorrow prevail. The definition of many concepts changes. What is
considered to be opposite is now debated as inter-mixed. Following the first
half of the 20th century, the journey called life turns into a labyrinth having
lots of questions along with the agony of not being able to find their answers.
Nevertheless, in those years the postmodernists had started to have their voice
heard, and believed that there was no need to be lost in deep sorrow. After
all, this journey was not to last too long. So why not turn it into a puzzle and
a game that can be played with readers and enjoy it. Postmodernist attitude,
is highly complex just like the real life itself. Naturally, the character of the
literary genres evolves in this direction. Both content and form change based
on the new perception.
The tale, as one of the oldest type of literary works also takes a new shape
according to the postmodernist approach.
The objective of this study is to explore the change that postmodernism brought
to a classic tale in the light of intertextuality.
Most of the people know or at least have an idea about the well-known fairy
tale Sleeping Beauty. In 1959, Disney had made an animated musical fantasy film
by the same name based on Charles Perrault’s edited version.2 After 55 years,
in 2014, Disney released another movie, Maleficent, by almost reinventing or
reimagining this classic tale. Screenplay writer is Linda Woolverton.
Having watched both versions, what impressed me most was that while both
films are clearly similar in many ways, they are also strikingly different. In
other words, on one hand the intertextuality and on the other the originality.
Therefore, in this study I’ve attempted to analyze this sameness and yet the
distinctiveness between the two versions. Also the originality, although one
is derived from the other. Robert McKee explains in his book Story: “Story
is about originality, not duplication. Originality is the confluence of content
and form-distinctive choices of subject plus a unique shaping of the telling.
Content (setting, characters, ideas) and form (selection and arrangement of
events) require, inspire, and mutually influence one another. With content in
one hand and a mastery of form in the other, a writer sculpts story” (Robert
McKee 1997: 11)
Charles Perrault (1628-1703), was a French author, poet, and member of Academie Française.
In his later years, in his book Tales of Mother Goose (1697), he compiled for his children the tales
like Sleeping Beauty, Little Red Riding Hood, Bluebeard and Puss in Boots which are known/classified
as spoken literature and made each of them a world classic. Years later these have been rewritten
by several authors the foremost of them being Brothers Grimm. They have been adapted to opera,
ballet (Sleeping Beauty by Tchaikovsky) and cinema (Walt Disney film Sleeping Beauty, 1959). In world
literature Perrault is named as the “father of children’s books). In this study, 1959 Disney version of
Sleeping Beauty which was edited by Perrault, has been used.
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Intertextual Transformation of A Fairy Tale From Sleeping Beauty to Maleficent
Sleeping Beauty, begins with the first page of a pictorial book and a man’s voice
is heard saying “once upon a time”. He is clearly the third person omniscient
narrator and not one of the characters of the tale.
In Maleficent a woman’s sweet voice is heard saying “Let us tell an old story
anew and we will see how well you know it!” The audience are immediately
taken, captured by the mystery of these words and are eager to know the rest
of the story. Clearly this woman cannot be just a narrator.
Both versions have the same characters, namely:
Aurora: The sleeping beauty, the daughter of the king.
Stephan: The king of a human kingdom.
Philip: The Prince, the son of another king.
Maleficent: The Evil, wicked fairy with no wings in 1956 and with wings in
2014 version. Her power is endless.
Three pixies, fairy godmothers: Named as Mistress Flora, Mistress Fauna and
Mistress Merryweather in 1956 but in 2014, the first fairy is called Knotgrass,
the second Flittle and the third Thistlewit.
The Crow: The loyal servant of Maleficent. She calls him “my pet”. Named
Diaval in 2014.
Once upon a time (the story takes place in the 14th century) in a land far away,
there lives a king and a queen who have desired for many years to have a
child.3 Eventually, they have a sweet baby girl. Since she has dawned on their
lives like a sun, they name her “Aurora”, meaning dawn. Everyone is invited to
the christening. The ceremony commences. The first guest is King Hubert. His
little son, Philipp is with him. The two close friends who want to unite their
kingdoms decide that Philip and Aurora will marry when they grow up.
Next, three fairy godmothers Mistress Flora, Mistress Fauna and Mistress
Merryweather, apparently invited by the king and the queen, enter the hall.
They fly over to the little princess and salute her with love. Each is allowed to
give only one gift. Flora bestows her with beauty and Fauna with a wonderful
voice. Next as Merryweather approaches the cradle to give her blessing, a
loud rumble is heard. From the cloud of a green light, Maleficent, known as
Sleeping Beauty: An adaptation of the well known tale as an animated musical fantasy by Disney
Studios in 1959 directed by Wolfgang Reitherman and Clyde Geronimi.
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a very evil fairy, appears before the king and queen with the crow, her loyal
servant. Green is the color of witches and dragons in world literature. Angered
for not being invited to the christening, Maleficent places a curse on Aurora
proclaiming that she would prick her finger on the spindle needle and die on
her 16th birthday. After she leaves, Merryweather who has not given her gift
yet manages to swap death with a deep, endless sleep from which Aurora can
only wake up with true love’s kiss.
The fairies know that this is not enough to keep Aurora safe, so they take her
to a cottage in the forest, and decide to live as mortals, until her sixteenth
birthday. One day, while strolling in the forest she meets the prince, Philipp,
both not having any clue that they were engaged years ago to be married.
At the end, the curse is fulfilled. Aurora falls into deep sleep but returns to life
by Philipp’s true love’s kiss.
Aurora reunites with her parents and marries Philipp. It is a happy ending as
expected and in accordance with the characteristic of all fairy tales.
Rather predictably, it is about the emphasis on the importance of love in
fairy tales and the expectation of a princess and a prince marrying and living
happily ever after.
Here is a brief description of each character and their role in both movies:
She is the daughter of the king Stephan and cursed by Maleficent in both
In 1959 movie she marries the prince, Philip whose kiss awakes her. 2014 movie
leaves it to the viewers to guess if and when she would marry Philipp who, in
fact, is not the one who gives her the kiss of life in this version.
He is the king in both versions. In 1959, he is much loved by the people of the
kingdom, is a good hearted and generous man. In 2014 he is a greedy man
portrayed like a villain and with a very interesting past.
The son of the king, the prince, and the one who marries Aurora and saves her
from her curse in 1959 version. You are in for a surprise in 2014 movie.
The Three Fairies
In the early version they are described as loving, caring, guardian angels of
the little princess. In the late version in 2014, they appear to be selfish, fearful
creatures who don’t even much care about her.
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Intertextual Transformation of A Fairy Tale From Sleeping Beauty to Maleficent
The crow. In both movies he is acting as the loyal servant of Maleficent however
with the difference that in one for a good, and in the other for a bad cause.
In the old movie Sleeping Beauty, her character is portrayed as the evil, cold
hearted fairy who can curse an innocent baby just because she is not invited to
the christening ceremony. Philipp, the prince manages to kill her after a fight.
So the story is telling us that the good finally, no matter what, wins over the
bad. In 2014 Maleficent, the audience find themselves in a completely different
Instead of beginning with a much awaited, newly born princess the movie
starts with a young fairy named Maleficent. Her size is that of any human child
who would be at her age. She has a pair of wings at her back and horns on her
head. Maleficent is beautiful and kind. She lives in the Moors, a fairy-land
full of mysterious and magical creatures. Her land has borders with a hostile
human kingdom. That is why humans are not allowed to enter the Moors.
Right here, at the beginning of the movie, it is understood that something not
seen or told before is about the happen.
As stated earlier humans were forbidden to cross the borders into this
mysterious land of fairies. However, one day a young boy breaks this rule.
The treasures of the Moors have sparked his interest. He sneaks in and steals
a jewel. She captures the boy, appearing to be the same age as her. His name
is Stephan. He is an orphan and is very poor. All he dreams of is to enter
the castle and live there as a respected person with power. The two children
become friends at once. Now you know what the past of the king Stephan was.
He was just a poor boy with an ambition or better put, greed.
Stephan is surprised when the ring on his finger burns Maleficent’s hand as
they were shaking hands one day. When Maleficent explains him that iron
burns fairies, he immediately takes off his ring and tosses it away. Iron is
regarded as one of the most important symbols of materialism.
By throwing away his ring, Stephan wins something much more valuable, the
heart of Maleficent. Their friendship is actually a very extraordinary one. It
is as if this relationship ends the hatred between fairies and humans. When
Maleficent: A 2014 Disney fantasy film directed by Robert Stromberg. This live action film tells
the story of the animated musical fantasy Sleeping Beauty, produced by Disney in1959, from the
perspective of the evil fairy, Maleficent. The screenplay is by Linda Woolverton, starring Angelina
Jolie as Maleficent.
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Maleficent turns 16, Stephan kisses her and tells her that it is true love’s kiss.
Maleficent believes him with all her heart because she is a pure creature. She’s
free from lies and greed.
Stephan becomes a prisoner of his ambitions. Indeed, he slowly drifts away
from Maleficent. He manages to become the King’s servant. He starts watching
for an opportunity to impress him and win his trust. Maleficent is very sad to
see Stephan distancing himself from her.
In the meantime, she has become the protector of the Moors. The King gathers
his soldiers to conquer the Moors and its treasures. Maleficent manages to
defend her realm and fatally wounds the king in the battle. On his deathbed
the king promises that he will marry her daughter with the one who kills
Maleficent and make him his heir. This is an opportunity Stephan cannot
miss. He goes to the Moors. He tells Maleficent that he has come to warn her.
Maleficent is so kind hearted that she forgives Stephan for being carried away
with his ambitions and abandoning her. She has no clue that he is back to
deceive, to betray her. Indeed, Stephan has an evil plan. He drugs Maleficent
to make her sleep. He unsheathes his knife but, cannot kill Maleficent for
whatever good still left in him. Instead he cuts off her wings and takes them
to the king as the proof of her death. Stephan gets his reward. He marries the
king’s daughter and gets the crown. Maleficent has an unstoppable, irresistible
desire for revenge.
Diaval is the crow she saved from death. She asks him to become her servant.
He accepts. Diaval would be her wings. Through him, she starts getting news
of Stephan. Diaval, who is turned into various forms from human to wolf by
her, notices the grief hidden behind Maleficent’s cold face.
Meanwhile, Stephan has had a daughter: Aurora! Remember, 1959 movie
starts with the christening of Aurora. Maleficent curses the baby. Stephan begs
Maleficent to take her curse back. Maleficent changes it with a sleep that can
only end if the princess receives true love’s kiss.
This is only to take even a bitter revenge from Stephan, because they both
know that such a love does not exist. Maleficent seals the curse with the words
“This curse will last till the end of time. No power on Earth can change it.” She
too turns into a green light and leaves the hall. She retreats to the Moors and
“revels in the sorrow that her curse has brought.”
Maleficent watches Aurora closely, who was brought to a nearby village by
the three fairies to protect her from the curse. She starts taking care of the little
princess, since the three fairies know nothing about child care, exposing her to
thirst, hunger and various other dangers.
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Intertextual Transformation of A Fairy Tale From Sleeping Beauty to Maleficent
In other words, she becomes the guardian angel of the baby she cursed. She is
a very kind hearted child. Her character traits resemble to those of Maleficent’s
as a child. One day she comes across Maleficent and runs to hug her. Maleficent
is surprised but does not stop her. The older Aurora gets, the more she wants
to know about Maleficent and believes she’s her “Fairy Godmother”.
She wishes to break the curse and uses all her power for it. But a whisper
repeats these words she had uttered nearly 16 years ago at the christening:
“This curse will last till the end of time. No power on Earth can change it.”
Maleficent is helpless.
The 16th birthday is approaching. One day, on her way back to the cottage
from a walk in the forest, Aurora runs into a young man. His name is Philipp.
Aurora, is yet ignorant of the fact that he is a prince.
They are instantly attracted to each other and promise to meet again. They do
not fall in love at first sight either. Just like in the 1959 version, the fairies are
busy organizing a birthday party for Aurora. They are very happy because
their mission is about to end. Although they like Aurora, they believe they
wasted 16 years of their lives. Clearly, the intention here is to tear down the
traditional “fairies are good” perception of the audience.
Eventually, they reveal the curse that Maleficent put on her. Aurora finds out
that her fairy Godmother is Maleficent herself. Torn to pieces, she sets off to the
castle in bitter disappointment.
Stephan has long been thinking of destroying Maleficent. The prosperity of
the kingdom, his wife’s sickness and death have not been a concern for him.
He had sent his soldiers to the Moors to capture Maleficent and had iron webs
constructed to stop her from entering the castle.
Stephan is now very different from the child that threw away his ring in order
not to harm Maleficent. Greed and later fear made him lose his mind. He even
does not care much for his own daughter.
The curse gets fulfilled and Aurora falls into sleep from which she can only
wake up with the true love kiss. Maleficent and Diaval put their lives at stake
and enter the castle.
As Maleficent predicted, Philipp’s kiss does not work. Maleficent is devastated.
At Aurora’s bedside she says “I will not ask your forgiveness because what
I have done to you is unforgivable. I was lost in hatred and revenge. Sweet
Aurora, you stole what was left of my heart. And now I have lost you forever. I
swear, no harm will come to you as long as I live. And not a day shall pass that
I don’t miss your smile.” Then she kisses her forehead.
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She is in tears. The moment she turns her back to go away, Aurora opens her
eyes: “Hello Godmother.” Maleficent turns her face to her in great astonishment
and joy and responds “Hello Beasty”. The words “No truer love” spill from
Diaval’s mouth, who has been watching them. Yes, it is clearly demonstrated
that there can be no truer love on earth than this. So you know now whose kiss
brings Aurora back to life in 2014 version. However, Stephan is determined to
kill Maleficent. He throws an iron web at her.
Maleficent turns Diaval into a dragon. Contrary to 1959 movie, Diaval is the
dragon this time. In other words, he is the good character. As Stephan was
about to kill Maleficent, Aurora finds her wings and sets them free. The wings,
which are alive, fly back to Maleficent and attach themselves. They enable
her to win the battle. The evil character who is Stephan in this version, is not
killed by Maleficent. She gets the opportunuty but decides not to. Her love for
Aurora overcomes the hate. He actualy falls to his death dragging Maleficent
with him. She manages to free herself from his grip and her wings save her.
Thus, the good wins, the evil loses.
Maleficent returns to her old happy and radiant self. She unites the two
kingdoms. She gathers the inhabitants of the Moors and introduces them their
queen: Aurora! Philipp is also there. It is understood that they will fall in love
with each other.
The movie ends with these sentences, which reveal the identity of the
mysterious narrator: “So you see, the story is not quite as you were told, for I
was the one they called Sleeping Beauty. In the end, my kingdom was united
not by a hero, as legend had predicted, but by one who was both hero and
villain, and her name was Maleficent.”
In both movies, apart from the magical powers of the fairies, after all both
are fairy tales, we witness quite earthly events happening, and emotions
displayed. More interestingly we see that even the fairies, good or bad, have
humanly feelings and reactions. In broader terms good and bad exist in both
worlds. Of these, what quickly come to one’s mind are:
Modesty versus Greed
Revenge versus Forgiveness
Betrayal versus Loyalty
Love versus Hatred
Selfish love versus Selfless love
Innocence versus Corruption or Goodness versus Badness
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Intertextual Transformation of A Fairy Tale From Sleeping Beauty to Maleficent
Hero versus Villain
Remember Maleficent was the villain, Stephan the hero in the old movie.
In 2014 roles change, Stephan becomes the villain. He allows the greed to poison
his heart to the point that he cuts Maleficent’s wings to inherit the throne.
Maleficent is both hero and villain. From loving, pure, innocent fairy in her
childhood she turns to be a cruel avenger, placing a curse on an innocent, new
born baby, because of Stefan’s betrayal. Later softened by the love she develops
for Aurora, turns a hero by saving Aurora, getting rid of the villain, and uniting
the two kingdoms. Her love for Aurora is selfless and true as Diaval said “no
truer love”.
Only Aurora seems to have kept her true identity as the innocent child, doomed
for a curse in both versions.
Diaval was the crow who served evil plans in the old movie but fights against
evil in 2014.
The loving, caring, good hearted fairies who were sincerely concerned for well
being of the little princess, turn to selfish ones, thinking they have wasted their
time looking after her.
1959 version is a classic fairy tale. Here, the distinction between the good and
the evil is so clear that no question marks are left behind. The intention is to
make us love the good and hate, condemn the evil without questioning.
The two texts are indeed intertextual because they stem from the same roots,
have all the characters even by the same name. You may even think that you
will just watch the same story with improved visual effects etc. However by
just glancing at the opening scene, you realize that you are in for a surprise.
Because in 2014 movie the time is rolled back to the childhood of Maleficent.
Eventually the audience are exposed to questions like who is good and who is
evil? How should good and evil be assessed? What is true love? How does it
evolve? What are the dynamics of its progress? The importance of questioning
is emphasized. Subsequently, developing perfectly the cause and effect
relationship, with a well-built story, it leads the audience towards finding the
Despite their close kinship, each version is individually original. Maleficent
created with a postmodern approach does manage to shatter many given
perceptions in the minds of its audience. This new approach is remarkable.
The clearly and cleverly conveyed message is that the truth might not be as it
seems and that nothing should be taken for granted.
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Booth, W. C. (1983). The Rhetoric of Fiction, Chicago & London: The University
of Chicago Press.
Campbell, J. (2003). Hero’s Journey: Joseph Campbell on His Life and Work (The
Collected Works of Joseph Campbell), NY, Harper&Row Publiisher’s, Inc.
McKee, R. (1997). Story-Substance, Stracture, Style, and the Principles of
Screenwriting, New York: HarperCollins Publisher Inc.
Propp, V. (1984). Theory and History of Folklore, Trans: Ariadna Y. Martin and
Richard P. Martin. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
Propp, V. (1968). Morphology of the Folk Tale, Trans: Laurence Scott. Texas:
University of Texas Press.
Vogler, C. (2007). The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers, CA: Michael
Wiese Productions.
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Cilt: 20 – Sayı: 38, Aralık 2017
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LUX: A Journal of Transdisciplinary Writing and Research from
Claremont Graduate University
Volume 2 | Issue 1
Article 29
Damsels and Heroines: The Conundrum of the
Post-Feminist Disney Princess
Cassandra Stover
University of Southern California, cstover@usc.edu
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Part of the American Popular Culture Commons, Critical and Cultural Studies Commons, Film
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Recommended Citation
Stover, Cassandra (2013) “Damsels and Heroines: The Conundrum of the Post-Feminist Disney Princess,” LUX: A Journal of
Transdisciplinary Writing and Research from Claremont Graduate University: Vol. 2: Iss. 1, Article 29.
Available at: http://scholarship.claremont.edu/lux/vol2/iss1/29
Stover: Damsels and Heroines: The Conundrum of the Post-Feminist Disney Princess
Stover 1
Damsels and Heroines: The Conundrum of the
Post-Feminist Disney Princess
Cassandra Stover
University of Southern California
This research explores cultural shifts in the popularity of the Disney princess in American
culture, especially its postmodern resurgence, as well as the complex relationship between
Disney’s recent representations of women in the 1990’s and post-feminist ideology. My project
begins by analyzing the historic appearance of the Disney female in relation to the women’s
movements. I also examine lingering anti-feminist backlash in representations of what I call
“New Wave” Disney heroines. Finally, I examine the implications of post-feminist discourse and
advertising for young female viewers.
When asked about Disney movies, many parents groan and launch into a familiar diatribe about
the studio that transformed their daughters into princesses. The dresses, the tiaras, the pink;
countless parents watch their little girl embrace the princess way of life, and struggle with the
contradictory messages found in many of the films. Disney princesses have often come under
attack for promoting harmful, unrealistic body types and the narrow ideal of marriage as the
happiest of endings for young women. Viewed through this lens, the postmodern resurgence of
films featuring these characters in the early 1990’s seems in-congruent with the increasing
independence and visibility of women in our culture. Why, even when second-wave feminism
has brought women unprecedented levels of equality, (Women’s Bureau, U.S. Department of
Labor 2011) do audiences of all ages remain infatuated with images of beautiful underweight
damsels? Drawing on scholarship from cultural studies and gender theory, as well as ideological
analyses of select Disney films, this paper will examine both the evolution of Disney heroines,
and the complex relationship between Disney’s recent representations of women in the 1990’s
and post-feminist ideology. While these new heroines appear more autonomous than their presecond-wave feminism predecessors, they also represent elements of the anti-feminist backlash
agenda that sought to regulate and dis-empower female images through media and marketing in
the late 1980’s. The first section of this paper analyzes the historic appearance of the Disney
female in relation to the women’s movements. The second section examines lingering antifeminist backlash in representations of postmodern Disney heroines. The third section of this
paper examines the implications of post-feminist discourse and advertising for young female
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Stover 2
The Walt Disney Corporation has enjoyed a lengthy reign in the realm of princess film
production, helping to shape the ideals of femininity for millions of little girls both in America
and around the world. Despite the obvious un-reality of these fairytale narratives, the central
characters that inhabited these imaginary lands were human, and as such their representations
bore a considerable likeness to contemporary gender expectations and stereotypes, giving
audiences a figure with whom they could comfortably identify. Most fascinating is Disney’s
endless revamping of the princess to correspond with contemporary gender standards, to
maintain relevance both in actions and characteristics. Throughout the twentieth century, the
princess waxed and waned in reaction to periods of strength and decline in the women’s
movement, reflecting the compulsion to regulate, and subsequently de-fang, female sexuality
through visual media. These idealized representations of women corresponded to cultural
pressure for women to retreat from active roles, a trend at each turn of what Susan Faludi dubbed
the “tilted corkscrew” (Faludi 1991, 54) of feminism, a spiral of illusionary progress forever
turning towards an unreachable goal of gender equality. With this in mind, it is understandable
that the image of the Disney princess reappeared every few decades, appealing when widespread
anti-feminist backlash shifted the women’s movement away from its objectives.
Early Disney Woman: Voiceless Beauty
In the period leading up to the second-wave feminist movement, Disney women were
derived entirely from Grimm’s fairy-tales, voiceless heroines who performed conventional
gender behaviors like housekeeping and nurturing. (Bell, Haas, and Sells 1995) Even though the
first-wave suffrage movement had won women both the right to vote and the confidence to enter
the labor force in unprecedented numbers, (Milkman 1976, 78) the very first Disney princess
drew on associations of traditional femininity, indicating the widespread encouragement of these
traits within 1930’s American culture. The Great Depression left tens of thousands of people
jobless, and the competition for labor combined with Catholic moral reform movements fostered
a national desire for women to return to the home, a mentality that was widely represented in
1930’s commercial media. The incredibly popular Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)
featured a female protagonist who fit the domestic expectations of pre-World War II women,
(Rosen 1973) and appealed to Depression-era escapism. (Gabler 2006, 273) Snow White
exemplifies Hollywood’s trend towards passive, childish figures like Joan Fontaine and Billie
Burke, in a time when the Hayes Production Code condemned loudmouth superstars like Mae
West and Katharine Hepburn as “box-office poison.” After the early 1930s, when strong leading
women prospered in the wake of liberated flappers and newly-won suffrage, a heavy increase in
censorship began to limit female characters in action and dialogue, resulting in the elimination of
silent screen vamps and early talkie spitfires, and the embrace of Snow White’s pure maiden
innocence. (Rosen 1973, 190)
However, the varying acceptability of this submissive female image is apparent in its
absence during World War II, and its resurgence in the postwar period. From 1937 to 1950
Disney produced plenty of escapist fare like Dumbo, Bambi, and The Three Caballeros, but
princess characters were entirely absent, mainly due to the unprecedented public activism of
American women in the war effort. (Dabakis 1993, 182) Since women were leading the war
effort at home and managing entire households and companies on their own, few would easily or
readily identify with the passive damsel awaiting her prince. The magical splendor of fairylands
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Stover: Damsels and Heroines: The Conundrum of the Post-Feminist Disney Princess
Stover 3
was cast aside as war culture fitted women with role models like Rosie the Riveter, and
restocked the silver screen with strong heroines like Katharine Hepburn and Joan
Crawford.(Rosen 1973, 209) This trend thrived until the postwar period, when the appeal and
security of domestic marriage were popularized and pushed on the American public. (Friedan
2001, 61) The success of Cinderella (1950) demonstrated this shift in mainstream cultural
thinking after World War II, towards the desire for women to return to family matters and allow
men to embody the ideals of hard work and ambition. Like other Hollywood moguls, Disney was
eager to cash in on the “new” woman of the 1950s, providing escape from Cold War fears. These
trends towards traditional femininity represent cultural attitudes toward adult females, and with
Sleeping Beauty (1959) Disney attempted to retain traditional ideals of femininity while speaking
to a changing generation. However, the film’s critical and popular failure suggests that these new
filmgoers found the rigidly defined gender roles of Disney princesses less desirable and
irrelevant to their experiences. (Gabler 2006)
With this in mind, it is unsurprising that the period between 1960 and 1989 saw no
princess films. A time of experimentation in social life as well as in cultural media, this era of
American filmmaking coincided with massive campaigning for gender equality as well as
questioning of previously unchallenged gendered images. However, while the presence of the
Second-wave feminist movement and the subsequent visibility of powerful, influential women
did not jive with Disney’s image of the passive princess in the 60s and 70s, the presence of antifeminist backlash and the subsequent rhetoric of post-feminism encouraged its resurgence in the
late 80s and early 90s. In this period of postmodern filmmaking, feminist film critic Laura
Mulvey notes a political shift in “aesthetic and intellectual priorities” towards “neoliberal
imperialism,” (Mulvey 2004) the foundation of 1980s anti-feminist backlash. The advent of
Reaganomics and subsequent conservative trends of the 1980s fostered an environment of antifeminism, propagated through visual media such as advertising, television, and most
significantly, cinema. With a little refurbishing, the Disney female character joined ranks of
women’s magazines and TV shows as the perfect vehicle for post-feminist rhetoric in the guise
of promoting “new womanhood.”
The new Disney female is, at first glance, an overwhelming improvement from Snow
White and Cinderella, and reflects the improvement in female status since the respective eras of
those productions. With its release of The Little Mermaid (1989), Disney underwent a shift
towards a “New Wave” of princess films, which transformed the damsel into a heroine of sorts,
with both a voice and a desire for adventure. This new approach ushered in two decades of gogetting, proactive heroines, with progressive qualities and character traits that corresponded
completely to the increasingly acceptable gender roles in a society where women hold the same
jobs as men. (Women’s Bureau, U.S. Department of Labor 2011) If Snow White, Sleeping
Beauty, and Cinderella exemplified the traditional Disney female as docile, beautiful objects
waiting for their prince to come, then Belle, Jasmine, Pocahontas, Meg, Mulan, and Tiana1 are
exactly the opposite: focused, ambitious, and in the case of Pocahontas and Mulan, literally
heroic as they perform the traditional prince role and save the day. In fact, a study funded by the
University of Connecticut demonstrated that masculine qualities of the traditional Disney hero
are increasingly applicable to the female characters. The study suggests that traits such as
“assertiveness,” “independence,” and “desire to explore” are coded masculine, and delineates the
From the films Beauty and the Beast (1991), Aladdin (1992), Pocahontas (1995), Hercules (1997), Mulan (1998),
and The Princess and the Frog (2009) respectively.
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Stover 4
progression of female characters towards embodying these previously off-limits characteristics.
Indeed, both Pocahontas and Mulan demonstrate levels of strength and leadership that were
inconceivable in the depiction of the traditional white, well-groomed princess. Tiana openly
scoffs at fairytales throughout The Princess and the Frog (2010), repeating, “You can’t rely on
that star, you gotta have hard work of your own.” However, while Disney replaced the
previously valued feminine qualities of “affection, fearfulness, and nurturing” (England,
Descartes, and Collier-Meek 2011, 555-567) with positive representations of autonomous female
characters, these princesses are highly visible in a problematic post-feminist world, where less
overt but ever-present backlash redirects the goals of feminism in a counterproductive fashion,
disguised as female consumer empowerment. (McRobbie 2004, 255) Disney utilizes postfeminist rhetoric in two ways; the content of the films acknowledges the gains of feminism,
while marketing strategies paradoxically reverse the message to convey post-feminist ideals.
“It’s certainly different now, but is it better?”
The post-feminist princess embodies ideals of feminism while representing the pressures
and entrapment of pre-feminist culture. Disney presents its post-feminist princess with desires
similar to Susan Gill’s description of the myth in society, where women are “entirely
autonomous agents, no longer constrained by any inequalities or tyrannies.” (Gill 2007, 93)
Disney utilizes this ideology to buoy the narrative conflict, creating a world where heroines are
trapped and breakout signifies a happily-ever-after. Jasmine explicitly states this feeling, and
Belle, Ariel, Pocahontas, Tiana, Meg, and Mulan all express a desire to escape from their
surroundings. In tune with post-feminism strategies, Disney often appropriated the rhetoric of
feminism with quips like when Jasmine states that “I am not a prize to be won,” or when Belle
sings “I want so much more than they’ve got planned.” This sense of powerful spirit coupled
with a longing for change positions these new Disney princesses as a representation of the prefeminist woman, constrained by society through marriage pressure, royal status, or even having
fins instead of legs. The situations of these princesses are, in effect, a criticism of the very
situations with which Disney began its princess empire. Snow White would never turn up her
nose at a handsome prince, nor would Cinderella turn down a chance to escape her life of
drudgery. Instead, these feisty new heroines rarely felt love at first sight, and did not relish the
idea of spending happily ever after with a rude, conceited prince. Belle, Jasmine, Meg, Tiana,
and Pocahontas all reject, initially at least, suitors who would come into conflict with their goals.
However, the ability to choose the right suitor at the end signifies post-feminist autonomy, and
thus constitutes a happy ending. Post-feminism celebrates woman as the sexually autonomous
individual, and thus Disney’s rhetoric shifted from any prince to the right prince.
While the new Disney princess expresses feminist ideals of autonomy, she is also a
microcosm of post-feminist ideals. In an era of pervasive anti-feminist backlash, media professor
Karen Ross warns against this “replacement of one set of stereotypes for another” disguised as
“genuine progress.” (Ross 2010, 3) In other words, just because a princess is no longer “wishing
for the one she loves to find her,” as Snow White does, she is not necessarily now wishing for
anything grander than finding him herself. Disney’s The Little Mermaid is the perfect
encapsulation of the post-feminist agenda, contrasting the threatening female ambitions of
power-hungry Ursula with the non-threatening ambitions of lovesick Ariel. While the princess’s
desires and ambitions are largely unprecedented within the Disney canon, the film reorders her
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goals much in the way post-feminism reordered the American women’s goals. The film initially
posits Ariel’s fascination with land as cause for leaving the ocean, but in the style of backlash
politics, it eventually channels her struggle for independence and autonomy into the more
traditional, narrow goal of choosing a husband. The narrative commandeers her desire into a
desperate teenage romance, amplified when both Sebastian and her father refer to her as “a
teenager” and “my little girl.” The repositioning of Ariel’s desire is understandable in a society
emerging from the backlash politics of the 1980’s; bombarded with images of the ruthless career
woman too in love with ambition to embrace traditional femininity; society could only accept a
woman whose ambitions were channeled towards love, or a woman with a great love for her
father, a very prominent trend in postmodern representations of powerful female characters.
While early Disney films featured wicked stepmothers and fairy godmothers, postmodern
Disney updated the mature authority figures to male adults as a source of approval and
justification for the heroine’s aspirations, in fact reducing her agency and independence. Valerie
Walkerdine notes that throughout popular culture, the “Daddy’s girl” presentation of childish
innocence is “more alluring” to the viewer, “corruptible” and “vulnerable.” (Walkerdine 1998, 2)
This trend in Disney begins with adventurous Ariel, whom the film reduces to a lovesick
child, finally delivering the film’s closing line “I love you Daddy;” and ends with Tiana’s
restaurant ambitions. While The Princess and the Frog presents tremendous female
empowerment by allowing the black female protagonist to own a business, the film constantly
reminds the viewer that Tiana inherited this dream from her father. The search for male parental
approval not only feminizes ambitious Tiana, but also reduces her to a little girl with love for her
deceased father, lest she appear threatening like Ursula. Her mother even remarks, “You’re your
Daddy’s daughter all right,” and Tiana wants to make sure “Daddy’s work means something”
when her mother tells her she should meet her Prince Charming instead. Other princesses Ariel,
Jasmine, and Pocahontas show independence and determination in rebellion against their fathers,
searching for forbidden love in forbidden lands, but each film’s happily-ever-after occurs when
the father is pleased with the arrangement, such as when King Triton exchanges a knowing smile
with Ariel’s soon-to-be-husband Eric. These finales clearly constitute the happy ending
necessary for any children’s film, but their importance lies in patriarchal approval, the final
blessing from the father, as in The Little Mermaid or Mulan . This shift to Daddy’s girl also
coincided with the relocation of most princess films to patriarchal cultures outside of the United
While the Disney studio is clearly trying to update its princess image for a post-feminist
audience by consciously addressing gender issues in Beauty and the Beast , Aladdin, or Mulan,
the spatial and/or temporal transference of these issues transforms them into cultural criticism,
reducing their potential as a representation of agency for an American female audience. The
Disney “New Wave” marks a progressive shift towards the exclusion of “princess” characters,
and inclusion of non-white, non-American female heroines: Pocahontas (1995), Mulan, Aladdin,
The Princess and the Frog, and Hercules, while problematic in various ways, are unprecedented
attempts by Disney to broaden their market appeal towards postmodern diversity while catering
to the new expectations of its female audience. However, Disney consistently relocates these
films to another country or time period, replacing the now-tired images of fairytale kingdoms
with exotic foreign lands and nostalgia. For example, Mulan consciously questions her crossdressing motives, wondering if she did it not to save her family but because it was the only way
to make something of her life. This is a brilliant critique, and states the problem of any woman
searching for importance in a society that pushes motherhood and housewifery. Unfortunately,
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by relocating this critique to ancient China, and creating overtly sexist male characters, the film’s
message comes across as a criticism of the repressive ancient Chinese government, allying
viewer sympathies with Mulan against her repressive environment, and distancing the viewer
from the reality that American female viewer remains oppressed in many aspects of personal and
professional life, if not by laws and regulations, by visual media and advertising. The film
champions Mulan for throwing off the conventional Disney princess attributes of demure beauty
to save her country, just as it presents stubborn Belle and Jasmine in a positive light. However,
while all post-feminist princesses embody this admirable image, much of its power is lost to the
dominance of objectification in the Disney toy market.
The Princess Movement: Post-Feminist Advertising
The autonomy of these characters onscreen justifies their infantilization and
objectification in the realm of advertising. Just as the societal rationalization for the frills and
appearance-oriented self-improvement (Faludi 1991, xv) of post-feminism is that the goals of
feminism have been met, the justification for the postmodern princess marrying a prince and
retreating to traditional feminine roles in the extended world of marketing is that the heroine’s
needs have been met. When narratives conclude, heroines like Belle or Ariel are happily
removed from their oppressive environments, and characters Jasmine or Tiana find their
circumstances have improved to the extent that the environment is no longer oppressive. Once a
fiery outsider, the Disney female no longer need dream of anything outside of her prince and the
promising future, and can retreat to the world of baking pies and dressing for galas on the Disney
princess website, which is where most little girls will interact with their favorite characters on a
daily basis. Among other products, dress-up dolls play an important role in disintegrating the
powerful postmodern princess into traditional objectified beauty, a passive figure to be dressed
for others’ visual pleasure, not for her own adventure. Advertising picks up where the narrative
left off, immersing Disney consumers in the hard-won happily-ever-after with an onslaught of
products. Like post-feminist advertising strategists, the Disney Corporation sees this happilyever-after as a vehicle for selling empowerment as commodity to the empowered female
consumer. The idea that women do things and buy things to please themselves is very important
to the rhetoric of post-feminism. (Gill 2007, 91) However, in a society where advertising still
encourages women to associate self-confidence with specific outward appearance, (Ross 2010,
58) this rhetoric is questionable, and the marketed images of the Disney princess reflect a similar
As children entered the marketplace in the last few decades and became targets of
aggressive toy marketing, Disney advertising ushered little girls into this new female
“autonomy” through the princess films. In post-feminist society, advertising often channels
female agency not only into purchasing power, but also into the power to make decisions about
one’s physical appearance. Cultural analyst Rosalind Gill describes this as a shift from “sexual
objectification to sexual subjectification,” (Gill 2007, 73) where marketers exploit the language
of feminism to encourage a woman to view herself as the autonomous subject, capable of
purchasing beauty not to attract men, but for her own pleasure. Post-feminist ad campaigns
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promise ageless skin; longer, thicker eyelashes; shoes to help her “walk sexy;”2 all designed to
“empower” the woman of the twenty-first century, equating a sense of control and self-esteem
with visual appearance. Representations of Disney princesses are saintly compared to
advertisements featuring half-naked, barely legal models, but these images play a very important
role in the auto-objectification of young girls, encouraging them to view themselves as “pretty”
and to achieve princess-worthy beauty through the purchase of princess-themed beauty products.
In the “magical world of the Disney Princess,”3 dresses, high heels, and long hair signal
not lounging incompetence but a desirable state of fun for children. In fact, one mother blogged
that her five-year-old’s beloved golden locks were long and unmanageable, and another child
gave herself blisters emulating Cinderella in plastic slippers. Another mother explicitly stated
that it is “empowering” for her daughter when people stare at the princess gown because it says
“treat me like royalty.” (Weill 2009) When girls attempt to be these princesses through dress up,
they internalize a notion central to post-feminist discourse: the illusion of the power of being
looked at. Faludi describes this market-dictated shift in female images as a shift to encouraging
female publicity rather than public agency, (Faludi 1991, xv) a process that removes the active
heroine from the beautiful body. While mainstream media seems to be doing all it can to present
adult women as sexualized subjects, family-friendly Disney seems to be taking steps backwards
and marketing its females as beautiful objects, using its traditional princesses as a template.
Just as post-feminist rhetoric borrowed traditional gender ideals to construct its platform,
the Disney Corporation drew on its own in-house archives of femininity, recycling old images of
nostalgia directly for profit. The reemergence of “traditional” Disney princesses Snow White,
Cinderella, and Sleeping Beauty marketed alongside Belle et al represents a problematic blurring
of gender ideals, which privileges some aspects of femininity and disregards others. Postmodern
Disney princesses definitely possess beauty equal to that of their predecessors, but within the
confines of narrative their character strengths lie mainly in their wit, spunk and passionate ideals.
They certainly do not adorn themselves for the pleasures of any man; it is quite clear that
princesses like Tiana and Belle could not care less about attracting a handsome prince at the
expense of giving up their dreams. But in a marketplace that encourages females to make
powerful statements that are physical instead of vocal, even strong female characters find their
power stripped and reduced to silent, attractive images akin to the Grimm’s princesses. (Gill
2007, 261) When sold in company of the traditional princess, the modern heroine acquires these
qualities of nurturing and passivity, feminized through dress-up and association with pink, hypergirly products. Alongside these ball gown-clad figures even warrior Mulan is taken out of her
armor and placed in feminine Chinese dress. However, the modern Disney heroine remains
unquestionably autonomous within her narrative, and by association though advertising and
products, this independent spirit passes retroactively to the traditional passive princess,
manifesting itself as a problematic notion akin to post-feminist strength-in-beauty ideology. (Gill
2007) Through a two-fold process, the passive beauty of Snow White mingles with the strength
and determination of Belle, resulting in products that equate independence and agency with
attractive appearance in the eyes of the consumer. When little girls process these images, the
Such as the popular “Body Training” shoes available from multiple retailers such as PUMA. “PUMA BodyTrain
Toning Shoes – Walk Sexy, Walk Light, Walk Tight.” PUMA. Welcome to the Home of SportLifestyle. Web. 28 July
2011. .
Available online at “Disney Princess … Games, Movies & More.” Official Home Page for All Things Disney.
Disney. Web. 02 July 2011. .
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ability to identify with a strong female character becomes the desire to dress like her, to emulate
in appearance not action.
New Frontiers, or Same Old Dresses?
The Disney princess evolves endlessly to embody popular archetypes of femininity and
appeal to each new generation of filmgoers. The myth of post-feminism keeps this princess
image viable in the twenty-first century, creating films that showcase feminist ideals of
independence but reduce them to post-feminist ideals of marriage, while image-based marketing
recalls traditional femininity and derails the princesses’ potential as feminist role models. Unlike
characters from Disney’s other films like Pinocchio and The Lion King, the Disney princess is
repackaged and resold to its consumer decades after the film’s release, allowing endless readings
by audiences. This ability to appeal again and again is central to the power of the princess, and
its popularity reflects cultural attitudes towards beauty and female autonomy.
In spite of princess-culture, the post-feminist princess seems to be waning yet again.
After the disappointing reception of The Princess and the Frog, Disney/Pixar chief creative
officer John Lasseter vowed to cease production on all princess films due to the unprofitability of
young female viewership. And since the rapid proliferation of Toy Story and other Pixar films,
the tremendous financial and critical success fostered by Pixar’s animated male heroes has made
the production of more princess films a questionable investment for studio executives.
(Chmielewski and Eller 2010) Paradoxically, the protagonist of Pixar’s upcoming 2012 release
Brave is a Scottish princess archer. While it is not yet clear whether or not this female will
receive the same treatment as the Disney princesses, Pixar will doubtlessly market its first female
protagonist with a bow in her hand. This image cannot offset the ubiquitous marketing of
Disney’s traditional princesses, but it is a step towards creating more diverse female images for
young female audiences.
Film companies often claim to cater to consumer preferences, but as film viewership
continues to decrease, studios should offer young girls more than dress-up and tiaras from their
narratives. Lasseter observed that little girls eventually outgrow their infatuation with the
princess, and thus studios must rethink their products in order to create long term interest.
Disney’s entertainment partner Pixar has proven that it is possible to make profound, quality
narratives for children, and still produce iconic, marketable images. It is time for Disney to invest
in female-driven narratives that have staying-power with consumers, to create female
protagonists with the cultural endurance and profitability that lie in the character and personality
of Pixar’s male heroes. Until Disney develops and markets its heroines in this fashion, these
females will never truly champion the progressive ideals of equality that inspired the women’s
movement for decades.
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Reference List
“Disney Princess … Games, Movies & More.” Official Home Page for All Things Disney.
Disney. 02 July 2011. .
“PUMA BodyTrain Toning Shoes – Walk Sexy, Walk Light, Walk Tight.” PUMA. Welcome to
the Home of SportLifestyle. 28 July 2011. .
“Women’s Bureau Home Page.” The U.S. Department of Labor Home Page. 11 July 2011.
Bell, Elizabeth. Somatexts at the Disney Shop: Constructing the Pentimentos of Women’s
Animated Bodies. Eds. Elizabeth Bell, Lynda Haas, and Laura Sells. Indiana UP, 1995.
22 May 2011.
Chmielewski, Dawn C., and Claudia Eller. “Disney Animation Is Closing the Book on Fairy
Tales – Los Angeles Times.” Featured Articles From The Los Angeles Times. 21 Nov.
2010. 28 July 2011. .
Dabakis, Melissa. “Gendered Labor: Norman Rockwell’s Rosie the Riveter and the Discourses
of Wartime Womanhood.” Gender and American History Since 1890. Ed. Barbara
Melosh. London: Routledge, 1993.
England, Dawn Elizabeth, Lara Descartes, and Melissa A. Collier-Meek. “Gender Role Portrayal
and the Disney Princess.” Sex Roles 64 (2011): 555-67. 25 May 2011.
Faludi, Susan. “Preface.” Backlash: the Undeclared War against American Women. New York:
Crown, 1991.
Friedan, Betty. “The Problem That Has No Name.” The Feminine Mystique. New York: Norton,
Gabler, Neal. Walt Disney: the Triumph of the American Imagination. New York: Knopf, 2006.
Gill, Rosalind. “Advertising and Postfeminism.” Gender and the Media. Cambridge [u.a.: Polity,
McRobbie, Angela. “Post-Feminism and Popular Culture.” Feminist Media Studies 4.3 (2004):
Milkman, Ruth. “Women’s Work and Economic Crisis: Some Lessons of the Great Depression.”
Review of Radical Political Economics 8.1 (1976): 78.
Mulvey, Laura. “Looking at the Past from the Present: Rethinking Feminist Film Theory of the
1970s.” Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 30.1 (2004): 1286-292. JSTOR.
Web. 3 June 2011.
LUX: A Journal of Transdisciplinary Writing and Research from Claremont Graduate University, Volume 2
© Claremont University Consortium, December 2012 | http://scholarship.claremont.edu/lux/
LUX: A Journal of Transdisciplinary Writing and Research from Claremont Graduate University, Vol. 2 [2013], Iss. 1, Art. 29
Stover 10
Rosen, Marjorie. Popcorn Venus; Women, Movies & the American Dream. New York: Coward,
McCann & Geoghegan, 1973.
Ross, Karen. Gendered Media: Women, Men, and Identity Politics. Lanham: Rowman &
Littlefield, 2010.
Walkerdine, Valerie. “Introduction.” Daddy’s Girl: Young Girls and Popular Culture. Cambridge,
MA: Harvard UP, 1998.
Weill, Sabrina. “All About the Princess Love Blog.” Disney Family.com. Disney, 22 July 2009.
02 July 2011. .
Women’s Bureau. “Women’s Bureau (WB) – Nontraditional Occupations for Women in 2009.”
The U.S. Department of Labor Home Page. U.S. Department of Labor. Web. 28 July
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© Claremont University Consortium, December 2012 | http://scholarship.claremont.edu/lux/

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