The Resurgence of Strong Female Characters in Disney Films

Published: Mar 24, 2014 11:38am EDT
By shaunmerritt, Entertainment/Sports Writer for Konsume Entertainment

Please Note: This article was updated Mar 24, 2014 @ 11:38am EDT


As it has been reported, the mega-hit Disney film Frozen has sold over 3.2 million Blu-ray and DVD copies on its first day of release. Along with its two Oscar wins for Best Song and Best Animated Film, Frozen is quickly becoming one of Disney's most successful animated films. It is now second behind Toy Story 3 for total gross of all animated films, a record I am sure it will easily surpass once all the digital copy sales are reported. 

What makes this so prevalent, even over the sheer monetary success, is that along Merida from Brave, Frozen is showing how strong female characters are starting to become main stays in a male dominated genre. Frozen has shown little girls that you can be your own person and not let anyone else define you, but more importantly, it has shown how Disney is starting to understand how they can portray strong female characters other than those who just be princesses. 

Before Frozen and Brave, Disney had slowly began transitioning their female from being damsels in distress to strong leading characters. Rapunzel from Tangled and Tiana from Princess and the Frog are good examples. They were independent spirits looking to conquer the world with open arms and little girls were loving it. It was refreshing to a character that wasn't all being a princess, even though those aspects were still part of the story. While Princess and the Frog was engrossed in controversy over the fact she was African-American and Disney was accosted for trying to make Merida more "feminine" for their princess line, both characters were plosive role models for little girls, way better than characters of years past. 

In earnest, outside of Mulan, there hasn't been a strong female character for girls to relate to, at least one put out by Disney. You really have to dig to find characters they are nothing more than side notes or romantic interests for the male lead character. Pocahontas comes to mind, but even then the story is driven mostly by the male lead characters. Disney has started to get away from that model and that it what makes Frozen and Brave so special. 

Brave gave us Merida, easily the most independent female character of all Disney animated films. She not only could compete with the boys, she was pretty much better than all of them. She didn't want to wear the dresses, the jewelry, or have anything to do with the fairy tail life. She wanted to be free. This was a complete departure from traditional Disney lore. In fact, almost every male character in that film, outside of her horse, is either a trouble maker, an idiot, ignorant, or completely egotistical. Even though she was added to the Disney princess line, she was one princess, along with Mulan, that girls could look to as strong and independent. 

Frozen gave us Elsa and Anna, two sisters trying to recapture their special bond. While Frozen does have a male lead character in Kristoff, he is the side love interest for Anna and doesn't save the day. Elsa is the one that ends up saving everyone by learning she has the power to control her abilities. It showed that woman can solve their own problems and do not need men to do it for them. 

While Frozen is not the "girl power" film that people are making it out to be, it is a step in the right direction. Let's not forget that Disney produced its first animated film Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs in 1937 and trying to erase 75 years of stereotypes in a male dominated industry is not going to be done easily, especially not in 3 or 4 films. However, Frozen and Brave are showing how the industry is changing. 

Looking in to the future, Disney has two films in development that will feature a female lead. First is Inside Out, due in 2015. It is set in the head of a 11 year old girl, Riley, where five emotions — Joy, Anger, Disgust, Fear and Sadness — try to lead the girl through her life as he moves from Minnesota to California. The project is being directed by Pete Doctor. Pixar's go to man. He wrote some of their most successful films like; Toy Story and Toy Story 2, Monster's Inc., WALL-E, and UP. 

The second is Finding Dory, due in 2016. It will be focused on the amnesiac character Dory as she searches out and reunites with her family. Dory has been one of the more beloved characters and it will be interesting to see how they explore the back story of the character. 

While neither film seems to be offering the promise of another character in the likes of Merida or Anna and Elsa, it at least has shows that female characters are getting top billing outside of playing a princess. While I am sure the princess days of Disney are far from over, the latest trend of making their female leads more complex and independent is a welcome change. A change that I hope they build upon for many, many years. 



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