The media greatly influences the way we think. Films create an environment of images that we grow up with and become used to. These images begin to shape what we know and how we understand the world.
Disney films have always been enormously popular with people of all ages. These films influence and reinforce gender stereotypes, and impact young people's expectations about how women should act. Little girls watching these films look to the princesses as role models and they are influenced by subtle message about how women should behave and what qualities are looked up to.
The Early Helpless Princess
The first Disney princess film was Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs which debuted in 1937. This was the beginning of the studios ongoing emphasis on princesses. Snow white is depicted as subservient and vulnerable. She is unwilling to stand up to her oppressor, in this case her evil step mother. The next princess film made in 1950 was Cinderella. Cinerella is also seen as helpless and destined to be a slave to her step mother forever. She is unable to stand up for herself and her situation seems hopeless until her fairy godmother steps in.
The pattern of helpless princess continued with 1959's Sleeping Beauty, where princess Aurora falls victim to an evil fairy's curse. This trend continues in Disneys films made in the late 80's and 90's. In The Little Mermaid, Ariel falls victim to the evil sea monster Ersula, who threatens to destroy her fathers kingdom and puts ariel under an evil spell. In Beauty and the Beast, Belle finds herself trapped with a Beast and unable to save her ailing father. In Aladin (1992), princess Jasmine is enslaved by the evil Jifar.
Disney Princess movies glorify one particular body type above all others; tall, skinny, and curvaceous. Women with any other body types are generally viewed as outcasts in the films. In order for a princess to win the love of her prince charming, she must be stunningly beautiful.
The Modern Warrior Princess
In 1995, with the release of Pocahontas, the word Princess took on a whole new meaning. Pocahauntus was a strong, independent, and fierce women. She was outspoken and brave, fighting in battle alongside her male counterparts to defend her homeland. Pocahontas played an important role in rescuing the man she loved. This was a big change from the old notion of princess where the princess was powerless to her own fate, and waited around for a prince to rescue her.
Disney’s next princess, in 1998’s Mulan goes so far as to disguise herself as a boy in order to join her country’s army. In this story Mulan is seen as an equal to her male counterparts, and she is the heroine who saves the day. She is an accomplished warrior who is determined, tough, and independent, but still keeps her feminine qualities. With their most recent release, 2009’s the Princess and the frog, "Disney has struck an appropriate balance between the kind-hearted princesses of yesteryear and the strong, girl-power-oriented heroes that today’s young women have come to expect."- David Nausir
Films can be a reflection of the ideals of the culture during the time period that they were made. The evolution of Disney's Princess mirrors the evolution in feminine equality. For the first time in history women are now seen as equal to men. Now a days little instead of expecting to grow up to be a subservient housewife, girls dream of having their own careers and their own independence.