We’re in full swing in terms of the revival of Disney films, whether it be live action remakes of old classics, or new reimagined princesses for a more independent generation of children. Moana is Disney’s most feminist role model to date, and Emma Watson brings us a brand new, more deeply developed Belle in Beauty and the Beast. As these movies are released and I venture to the theater to relive my childhood, I realize more and more just how truly awful Disney Princesses are.
As a child, I worshipped Disney Princesses. I snuggled with Ariel at Disney World, dressed up like Cinderella for Halloween, and asked my mother to put my hair in a Tinkerbell bun for school. Now, as a mother of a fierce, independent, 5-year-old girl, I rewatch these films in horror, determined to shield her from the messages these prim, perfect princesses send little girls about what they can expect from their own futures. As each year passes, I’ve come to hope she’ll choose Ursula over Ariel, and Maleficent over Aurora, because at least they’re kind of feminists.
Luckily, movies like Maleficent and TV shows like Once Upon A Time are taking the traditional prince and princess fairytales and turning them on their heads. But the fact is, the classic Disney Princess is impactful and immortal. Times, they are a-changing, but boy meets girl and is her only chance for happiness, is a stigma that remains forever stagnant decades later. Here are 15 times Disney Princesses were just the absolute worst.
15. When Ariel Changes Who She Is For A Guy
When I was young, Ariel and Eric’s love story seemed incredibly romantic to me. A girl loves a boy enough to make a sacrifice to him, and a boy can fall in love with a girl even without her “best” feature. What kind of garbage is that for a little girl to see as the standard for the formation of a relationship? Ariel is a smart, independent, free-spirited mermaid who holds they key to her own future.
Alas, as soon as she sees Eric, she obsesses over making whatever changes she needs to in order to have him. Since Ariel has been led to believe that her voice is her most appealing characteristic, she’s more than willing to sacrifice it to have the chance to have legs and woo him with her blissful silence. How could Eric possibly fall in love with her if she doesn’t have her best asset? At least she’s pretty, right? Right?!
14. When Cinderella Leaves Home For A Man She Just Met
Cinderella has it rougher than most of the other Princesses growing up. Her beloved mother passes away, and her father falls for a nasty (read: unattractive) woman and two equally nasty daughters. As a stepmother, I take personal offense to this creation of the evil stepmother stigma this film gave birth to, but that’s another story. The point is, I know she’s desperate get out of the hell hole that used to be her home.
However, hightailing it out to marry a man she only met briefly for a couple of dances might not be the answer. After all, I know a charm made her unrecognizable, but a show is the only reason the prince would recognize Cinderella? If he can’t figure out who she is from anything but a glass slipper, maybe they should take things a bit more slowly.
13. When Snow White Invades Another Family’s Home
Disney’s original Princess is problematic in more ways than one. For starters, her beauty is directly associate with her “purity.” Also, she perpetuates the idea that you only shouldn’t trust strangers if they’re old and ugly. It’s fine if they’re strange men who let you live in their house or kiss you while you’re sleeping. But most glaringly, we have to circle back to those seven men.
Sure, Snow White is running for her life, but she doesn’t just break in to the home of another family. She goes through their pantry, she takes it upon herself to clean their home, and she then has the audacity to sleep in one of their beds. In what universe does rifling through one’s possessions even further make it more acceptable to raid their home? It’s okay honey, a good old fashioned breaking and entering is no big deal if you cook them dinner!
12. When Belle Suffers From Stockholm Syndrome
Yes, Emma Watson’s Belle has come a long way since the 1991 animated film. After all, the live action remake just surpassed the $1 billion mark. This modern Belle is an inventor in her own right, tries to teach younger girls to read, and stands up to her captor in ways her predecessor never did. However, the love story message is packaged and presented pretty much unchanged. A man (or animal, if you will), kidnaps a girl and holds her prisoner. Once the young woman has lived with her captor long enough and is immersed in her surroundings, she falls in love with him as almost a survival instinct. Belle might not be your typical damsel in distress, but her tale definitely glorifies duress.
11. Every Time They Need To Be Saved By A Man
Speaking of damsels in distressed, just about every Disney princess fails to be the hero of her own story. Even though the modern feminist duo Elsa and Ana don’t need a man to rescue them, they each have to save one another. As for the majority of the rest, Mulan might be the one exception of princesses who just simply cannot get up on their own two feet (or fins) to take control over their own destiny.
Belle needs a beast in order to escape her “provincial” life. Cinderella needs to marry a prince instead of getting her own job to get away from her evil step-family. Snow White has seven dwarves and still manages to get herself put into a sleeping spell. Come on ladies, let’s put our big girl panties on and take care of ourselves.
10. When Merida Whines About Fairness
On the surface, Merida appears to be one of those strong, independent princesses who will break the mold by defying tradition and setting her own destiny. The title of the move sets this standard from the moment you press play. These expectations are partially met, but her methodology is certainly not the best example for young girls. My daughter loves Merida with the fiery passion of their matching red, curly hair. As a result, we had to stop allowing her to watch Brave.
Why would we take away Merida as her role model? Have you even seen the logic Merida loses when arguing with her parents over her future? Although she’s largely right, Merida’s screeching response to everything her mother tells her to do is that it’s simply “not fair”. After a child watching a Princess absorbs this, she applies unfairness to every task in life that she doesn’t think she should have to do. Although Merida’s intentions are probably innocent and meant to question traditions that aren’t empowering, her approach could use some work.
9. When Elsa Destroys Everything With A Temper Tantrum
Sure, the motivations behind Elsa’s tendency to be withdrawn from her sister for fear that she will hurt her again are selfless and brave, but the drastic isolation she chooses does just as much damage. Elsa’s parents refused to find a way to help her understand and control her abilities, instead forcing her to fear and contain them, causing a simmer that was constantly ready to boil over.
Although her parental influence is largely to blame for shaping her, Elsa’s attempt at restraint triggers the opposite of withdrawal when she freezes the entire kingdom simply because she’s angry about her sister’s engagement. While Anna’s whirlwind romance is indeed a farce, Elsa loses her right to dictate who she can and cannot love when she refuses to let her sister into her life growing up,
8. When Powerful Women Are Ugly Villains
A few guarantees can always be expected when a villain is introduced in a Disney film, minus a few of the more recent endeavors. First, the villain is always an angry, bitter woman. Second, the woman is always either perpetually single, or a widower. Finally, the villainous woman has to be less beautiful than the heroine.
Ursula is an evil octopus, for no clearly identified reason other than her decision to have no husband or child, and her atypical appearance. Maleficent is cloaked in black and wicked simply because she performs witchcraft. The evil stepmothers in both Snow White and Cinderella have nefarious intentions simply because they are, well, stepmothers. They replaced the Princess’s mother, so obviously they must be awful. Why can’t we have a heroine stepmother, or an independent, confident woman who doesn’t need a man at all and doesn’t have an hourglass figure?
7. When Aurora’s Entire Life Story Is About Wanting Love
A gorgeous blonde flitting around the forest wondering when she will ever find her one true love makes for such compelling storytelling. Oh wait, it doesn’t? We better go ahead and add an evil witch, a curse, some sleeping, and an unsolicited smooch to create some excitement here. Even the animals are rooting for a tall, dark, handsome man to bring meaning to Aurora’s life, because isn’t that the only way to happiness?
Angelina Jolie’s 2014 reimagining of the Sleeping Beauty story, Maleficent, is full of flaws, but at least it shifts the focus on Aurora’s relationship with a young boy she barely knows, to the deeper, more complicated dynamic between Aurora and Maleficent. The spin adds more layers to a superficial story, and explores the idea of redemption rather than surface level obsession.
6. When Alice Eats And Drinks Every Unknown Substance
Remember that whole motto your parents used to make you repeat over and over? It went something like, “never take candy from a stranger.” Apparently Alice’s parents never thought to instill that message in their whimsical, dreamer of a daughter. Right after she chases the White Rabbit, she downs a bottle of liquid and a cake that are simply labeled “Eat Me” and “Drink Me”. She doesn’t even know where it came from!
Shortly after that when she follows the White Rabbit to his home, she drinks another bottle to grow, and eats more cakes to shrink again. To top it all off, she meets a talking caterpillar and follows his instructions to eat pieces of an unknown mushroom to change her size some more. That’s right, in a children’s movie, Alice eats a mushroom because a caterpillar smoking a hookah tells her to. Off with her head for that nonsense.
5. Tinker Bell’s Possessive Jealousy
Since Disney brought the burst of light to life as a feisty, yet silent tiny blonde in the animated Peter Pan feature film, Tinker Bell has become one of the company’s most famous trademark characters. Although she never speaks in the film, Tinker Bell makes her emotions and intentions crystal clear with her inflamed, infuriated face and heinous actions sparked by jealousy over other women.
When Tinker Bell meets Wendy Darling for the first time she refers to her as a ‘big ugly girl’ and even lies to the Lost Boys about Peter’s instructions to shoot and kill Wendy as she flies into Neverland. After her banishment, Tink even sells out Peter Pan’s hideout location to Captain Hook. Although she comes around eventually, it takes Peter’s expression of complete devotion to her to bring her back to health, which is an unhealthy perspective to any girl when she has a crush.
4. When Megara Literally Sells Her Soul For A Man
Sadly, the Disney Princess who ends up being the most independent, spunky member of the elite group also happens to be the one who made the biggest sacrifice for a man. Meg gave up her life essence, her soul, to Hades as a bargaining chip for her boyfriend. Unsurprisingly, her guy took his freedom and celebrated it with another woman, leaving Meg to suffer with Hades.
Of course Disney’s most quick-witted female character only ends up with this extra enjoyable snark because she’s had her heart broken. How could she possibly be this independent on her own accord? At one point when Megara is introducing herself, she even chirps, “My friends call me Meg. At least they would, if I had any friends.” Why does sass automatically mean unlikable? Why does heartbreak automatically ruin a woman?
3. When Anna Falls In Love In One Night And Ditches Her Sister
Disney dipped its does into a puddle of feminist resurgence with the release of Frozen in 2013 by presenting two sisters who save one another with an “act” of true love rather than a kiss from a man who is nearly a stranger. However, it takes the entire film for Anna to realize she was duped by her betrothed Hans. After barely venturing outside her family’s castle for her entire life, Anna is bedazzled by Hans after a few snappy one liners and, you guessed it, a single song.
Elsa, although she shouldn’t have run off like a petulant child once she uncontrollably unleashed her powers, was completely valid in her criticisms of Anna’s rush to the altar. Her refusal to see Hans’s true motives is only reversed when he explicitly tells her that he aims to let her die and kill her sister as well. Oh Anna, at least you made the right decision eventually.
2. Every Time Consent Is Not A Requirement
Disney normalizes an infinite number of behaviors that should be considered alarming if they were to ever happen in everyday life, but the “true love’s kiss” while in a coma takes the cake. Snow White only met her Prince Charming one time before he kissed her to break the sleeping curse. The two sang one song together, and because he can carry a tune he’s suddenly her one true love. But, even though their love hasn’t been confirmed by Snow White verbally, Prince Charming kisses her consent-less sleeping body anyway.
Prince Phillip, the first Disney Prince to actually be given a name, also wins over his beloved Aurora with a single song. Although Phillip does get credit for fighting for his right to marry Aurora even when he thinks she is a peasant girl, that doesn’t negate his propensity to kiss a girl who cannot give him permission. Disney glories “true love’s kiss” as a romantic gesture, when in fact it’s just rape culture encouragement.
1. Every Body Shape Of Every Princess
Young girls all over the world look up to the glitz and glamour of Disney Princesses as role models when it comes to standards of beauty. It’s no wonder we all begin analyzing our waist and portion sizes before we even hit puberty, just look at these girls. Sure, some of these films are meant to take place during a time period where corsets were widely used, but what’s Jasmine’s excuse? These body types are unattainable, yet we continue to perpetuate the idea that real royalty and beauty is directly related to a perfect hourglass figure and flawless bone structure. The only Princess in this roundup who has a waist I couldn’t fit my thumb and forefinger around is Merida, and even she is smaller than a double zero.
What did I miss? What other times were Disney Princess the absolute worst?