Disney has, inarguably, done much to uphold the white skinned, doe-eyed, tiny waisted ideal of physical femininity (consider Ursula the Sea Witch and the Queen of Hearts as a counterpoint). The women of the canon are, broadly, split into three traditional archetypes: the maiden, the mother and the crone. The virginal teenage heroine who must overcome a real or imagined obstacle and bag her man (Snow White, Beauty and the Beast‘s Belle); the nurturing, white-haired older woman as advisor or wish granter (Sleeping Beauty‘s three fairies, Cinderella‘s fairy godmother); the striking, red-lipped antagonist, sexually available, clever and evil (Malificent, Cruella De Ville). Up until The Little Mermaid, these women are entirely controlled beings with no real sense of selfhood, directed to their destinies by forces beyond their control. Whether or not these destinies correspond with each character dream (something that she must have) is a matter of chance and accident. Luckily for these girls what they all seem to dream of is love, or, more accurately Disneylove, which is instantanious and all encompassing, blind to flaws and everlasting.
But Disney’s fairy tales – Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, The Little Mermaid, and the like – are based on the stories collected by Perrault, Grimm and Andersen, so if they don’t show us a range of images of womanhood, whose fault is it?
That’s a difficult question to answer. Has Disney chosen to retell the most famous of the fairy tales, or are they the most famous fairy tales because Disney has chosen to retell them? Whatever the answer, the motivation of Walt Disney, of most entrepreneurial business minds, is not social progress. It is cash, cold and hard. This is not an admirable stance but it is a valid one. Disney will give the public what it thinks it wants and the public will drink it up, because it’s Disney. Read the rest of this entry