Finally! These animated movies have no time for pompous princes and sexist conventions
Movies we can actually learn something from
Imagine the headlines (especially ours) that would flood the internet if film studios like Disney were to release a children’s movie in 2017 about a young girl whose only purpose in life is to marry a rich guy and settle down. Taking cues from the zeitgeist, movie executives have undertaken a re-branding of the female heroine presented to young audiences across the world.
Just look at the recently-released trailer of Charming, produced by SC Films, which explores the idea that Prince Charming might not have been that perfect after all. In the movie, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty and Rapunzel discover that they are all engaged to the same guy. This fact is pointed out by Lenore (a new character voiced by Demi Lovato) who is probably the only woman in the land not affected by Prince Charming’s, well, charms.
If the trailer is anything to go by, Lenore is destined to join the list of new-age heroines who flout conventions perpetuated by Disney movies faster than you can ask “Do you wanna build a snowman?”
The Disney princess 2.0
Emma Watson’s Belle in the 2017 live-action remake of Beauty and the Beast was an impactful example of this modern heroine. In a departure from the 1991 cartoon movie, this Belle is an inventor and has more control in her relationship with the Beast (as much as is possible with a half bull-half human, we suppose). Despite a tale as old as time and song as old as rhyme, the smart tweaks in the story line and exploration of the characters’ backgrounds helped the movie gross over $900 million worldwide.
While Beauty and the Beast can be filed under ‘Classic Disney Romance’, studios are finally willing to admit that a female character could have a meaningful relationship other than her ‘one true love’. In Frozen (2013), for instance, the story eschews the tired boy-meets-girl trope and instead, focuses on the special bond shared by sisters, Anna and Elsa. The pay off? The film crossed over $1 billion worldwide and became the fifth highest-grossing film ever.
In Brave (2012), the story follows feisty Scottish princess Merida and the misadventures caused by a broken relationship with her mother. The happy-ever-after, in this case, reunites mother and daughter with a deeper understanding of (and tolerance for) each other’s eccentricities.
While we’re on the subject of empowered fairytale princesses, it would be remiss not to mention one of Disney’s most under-rated characters: Giselle from Enchanted (2007). In the movie, a previously animated Giselle finds herself stranded in the real world in the company of a cynical divorce lawyer and his tween daughter. The story sees Giselle evolving into a strong, independent woman who, ultimately, plays her own white knight in shining armour.
Our favourite fictional heroines
While there’s still a long way to go before Disney princesses can be appointed the face of feminism in mainstream culture, there have been several fictional characters who are perfect for the role. From Harry Potter’s Hermione Granger to Pride and Prejudice’s Elizabeth Bennet, here are some of our favourites.
Her mother's one life goal was to find good (rich) husbands for her daughters, but Elizabeth Bennet had other things on her mind. Self-assured and quick-witted, Lizzy Bennet was up to verbally spar with Mr Darcy, or any other challenger, at any given time, much to her mother’s dismay and father’s delight. Her stubbornness was a strength as well as weakness, as we saw in her defiant refusal to accept Wickham’s true character.
What she taught us: Even though it goes against your nature, it’s ok to admit you’ve made a mistake.
Hermione effectively taught a whole generation of little girls that it’s okay to be studious. In a society where women are constantly told that no man wants to be with a girl who is smarter than him, Hermione embodied a revolution of sorts. She was unapologetically nerdy, and stood up for what she believed in with an unrivalled ferocity, even if that meant being at the bottom of the popularity chain.
What she taught us: Never dumb yourself down for a guy, or anyone for that matter.
‘Ahead of her time’ is a common compliment for any Victorian heroine with even a hint of a spine, but it’s perfectly apt for Jane Eyre. To understand the brilliance of Jane’s character, you need to put it in the context of the era she was created in. This was a time when women rarely had agency over their own lives. To rebel against societal conventions and assert her independence despite the hardships she endured makes Jane one of the strongest literary characters ever created.
What she taught us: Never let anyone else take control of your life.
Another example of a woman following her own dreams in a society that actively dissuaded women from doing so was Josephine March. Despite being told several times that her manner was unseemly and her aspirations of becoming a writer were foolish, Jo didn’t let it get her down. Semi- autobiographical, Louisa May Alcott’s Jo grew up to learn to support her ambitions within the constraints placed on women in the nineteenth century. Not to forget, she was the force behind the OG ship wars. Years before #TeamJacob and #TeamEdward were a thing, #TeamLaurie and #TeamFriedrich were already dominating debates around the world.
What she taught us: Having ambitions is not ‘unladylike’.
Just when we had given up hope of seeing a strong female role model for the tween population of the world (who could have blamed us after Bella Swan), Katniss Everdeen emerged as the bow-wielding rebel. Though Katniss, like Bella, had two men fighting over her and a looming threat that placed her at the centre of the book’s universe, the hero of District 13 was no vapid, self-destructive vampire wannabe. No amount of teen angst from Peeta Mellarke could distract her from what she had set out to do. Also, she had no time for the passive-aggressiveness of the 'friendzoned' Gale.
What she taught us: Don’t let any guy, or a dystopian government, come in the way of your goals.
Have you ever felt like you don’t actually belong in the world you’re living in? Or that nobody really understands you, but not in the insufferable ways teenage boys claim while emulating Holden Caulfield? Matilda felt all that and more at an age where most kids are still learning to tie their own shoelaces.
Her family didn't value her intelligence or understand her love for reading. So she taught herself telekinesis to deal with them and the tyrant principal Miss Trunchbull, who forced kids to eat chocolate cake and took an unhealthy interest in the students’ hairstyles and fashion choices.
What she taught us: You can do anything if you set your mind to it.
Princess Leia, Star Wars
Princess (now General, sorry Force Awakens spoilers) Leia was the OG badass. Ever since she was introduced in A New Hope, there was little doubt that Leia would command all our attention. Holding her own against Darth Vader and taking down Jabba the Hut single-handedly, this princess proved that she needed no rescuing. Even years after the rebellion took down the dark side, she rallied forces against the New Order and the wannabe Darth Vader (that he was her son did not deter her) and led the forces like the true boss she is.
What she taught us: When it comes to kicking ass and taking names, never send a man to do a woman’s job.