The sweet simplicity of 1937's Snow White has given way to the no-nonsense, take-charge attitude of the 21st-century Rapunzel
By Shelley Fralic
The stereotyping began way back in 1937, when coquettish Snow White depended upon the kindness of dwarfs for eternal happiness, and she was followed by a simpy Cinderella and her dainty glass slipper in 1950 and then Sleeping Beauty's sweet, clueless Aurora, in 1959.
It would be another 30 years, in 1989, before Disney introduced its next princess and, perhaps sensing the coast was clear after having ceded the inappropriate dream girl market to Barbie and her bodacious bosom, they debuted the sassy Ariel in The Little Mermaid.
The tide had turned. Ariel was a stubborn redhead who defied her family and chose love over crustaceans and, ever since, the Disney princesses have been breaking the mould.
In 1991, Belle romanced ugly in Beauty and The Beast. Jasmine was the sultan's daughter who rejected prearranged suitors in 1992's Aladdin. In 1995, Pocahontas gave up her prince to stay with the tribe. Mulan kicked serious Hun hiney in 1998, while Tiana was a waitress-cum-restaurateur in 2009's The Princess and The Frog. And now we have Rapunzel, who gets in and out of jams with a flick of her glowing ponytail and rescues her husband-to-be, a hapless buffoon who is nowhere near as charming as her sidekick chameleon Pascal or the palace steed Maximus.
The common denominator is that these women are defined by love, marriage, and (usually) royalty. If it seems "natural" for these movies to be romances, consider this: How many male heroes are defined by their relationships with women? A handful in a hundred? For every Edward Cullen, there's a Sherlock Holmes, Lone Ranger, Batman, James Bond, Captain Kirk, Luke Skywalker, Indiana Jones, Rambo, the Terminator, Harry Potter, Captain Jack Sparrow, Wolverine, Jason Bourne, Frodo, et al. I could go on and on listing male heroes who don't get married and live happily ever after in the end.
About the only Disney women who break the "marriage or bust" mold are Meg (Hercules), Mulan, and Esmeralda (Hunchback of Notre-Dame). In other words, a minority of Disney's female characters. The majority may be "intrepid and brainy," as Fralic writes, but they don't have career plans that require them to stay single. Unlike the male characters, they don't have a higher calling beyond love.
For more on the subject, see "Marriage or Bust" for Disney's Women.
Below: Seven of eight Disney women who married their Prince Charmings--some of them literally.