What was the most impactful movie you saw as a child? If you grew up anywhere between the 80s or 90s, you might answer with one of the more familiar Disney or Pixar movies we grew up with (and consequently love!). But children these days have much more options—and while we may be too old to fully appreciate them, we can't deny that they seem to be leagues ahead of what was on our own screens back in the day.
On the Feminine
The damsel in distress has been an ever-present trope in movies, comic books, TV shows, and other forms of media. They are in our fairy tales and our films and are a constant in narratives. Often acknowledged as Disney's first princess, Snow White and the Seven Dwarves premiered in 1937 and remains a classic to this day. Yet, closer examination of its plot—and the plots of movies that followed—detail the evolution of children's films with relation to its perspectives of life and women.
Over a decade since Snow White and the Seven Dwarves premiered came Cinderella. She was introduced to us in 1950, at a time when women in America were taking on their role as a homemaker. And much like Snow White, Cinderella is seen to be an industrious housewife of sorts, only having been saved by a prince and not of her own hardworking merit. Here, men were still seen as providers and saviours; though the movie is centred around the lives of these women, we see that they are secondary to the power and privilege of their princes.
It was only around the 1990s that the damsels in Disney movies became much more empowered. In 1991, Belle was brought to life and introduced young viewers to a woman who was smart and compassionate. In 1992, came Aladdin's Jasmine, who, though bound by the men in her life, was headstrong and stood up for her beliefs. Of course, it would be impossible to discount Mulan, the movie that tackled gender discrimination much more openly than in any other children's film. The statement here was loud and clear: women were just as capable as men.
Since then, a new era of Disney women have emerged and there is no going back to the misogynistic message of early Disney counterparts. These days, a handful of these Disney women don't need a love story to make them interesting anymore. Since 2010, Disney has pivoted their female leads to be independent and strong, never having to rely on another secondary character to prove their worth. Brave's Merida was the first movie to come out without a prince and soon followed the ambitious Moana.
The movement towards gender equality, while still needing much more to be done, has come a long way from the 20th century. But it wasn't just this that had evolved.