Disney Masculinity

This is an extremely interesting video about masculinity in Disney films.

Essentially, the video argues that masculinity in Disney movies has three primary elements:

  • Viewing women as objects of pleasure or servants to please them;
  • Possessing a muscled body and physical prowess;
  • Being willing to fight to maintain dominance.

I think the video suffers from one fatal flaw: it does not adequately distinguish between “good guy masculinity” and “bad guy masculinity.” For instance, the video is right that pacifism rarely comes off well in Disney. However, good guys in Disney films rarely choose to fight; they are driven by the villain’s evil to fight. In fact, Disney Villain Death exists just so the heroes don’t have to have blood on their hands. Good guys, according to the Disney idea of masculinity, are classic “I didn’t start the fight, but I’m sure as hell gonna end it” people.  

 The objectification section is particularly problematic. Gaston is, very clearly, not a hero and his view of Belle as an object to be possessed because she’s beautiful is a foil to Belle learning to love the Beast for what he is on the inside. A Girl Worth Fighting For from Mulan is supposed to be sexist. That’s literally the whole joke of the song. See the bit where Mulan was all “how ’bout a girl who’s got a brain, who always speaks her mind” and everyone else was like “nah”? That is because they have sexist views of what women are good for, which proves exactly how badass Mulan is by defying her gender roles to kick ass and take names.

Which is not to say that good-guy masculinity in Disney movies isn’t objectifying; it is just not “women as objects for pleasure” objectifying. Instead, good-guy masculinity is pedestalizing. Good men in Disney movies treat women like, well, princesses. They see that they’re beautiful and then are willing to suffer any pain, endure any torment, do any deed, in order to earn her love.

But pedestalization is not magically unsexist. For one thing, it denies women agency: why can’t they go about earning men’s love? Besides, women– even beautiful women– are often assholes who don’t deserve to have someone go through the Twelve Labors of Hercules to earn their love; pedestalization denies women the agency to be less than perfect. It also creates a toxic view of love. Love is not something you earn. You do not deserve love because you buy flowers or pay for dinners or write poems or give compliments or open car doors or treat women like (revealing phrase!) princesses.

Love is a relationship, not a reward. People of all genders get love when they find someone whose company they enjoy, whose presence makes their stomachs flip over, who makes them a better person, who shares their values, whom they want to share a life with. You don’t have to be Prince Charming to find love; you just have to be a person. And Disney movies don’t really depict that kind of love. Maybe it makes bad movies.

Despite my disagreements with the video, I do think it’s vitally important that we continue to examine the gender politics of Disney movies from all sides, masculinity as well as femininity. Childhood popular culture is an important source of ideas about how the world works that continue to influence us for the rest of our lives– and, in terms of gender and relationships, those ideas can fuck us up pretty damn bad.  

Disney movies are especially important as sources of childhood socialization, because of how popular they are. Nearly everyone saw at least one Disney movie as a child; most of us have seen most of the Disney oeuvre. As a college student, I regularly participate in spontaneous The Lion King or Mulan singalongs. Disney is a tremendously important part of our collective culture, so we can’t ignore the places where it fucks up.

Therefore, it’s important for us social justice types to criticize Disney movies when they fail. They depict thin characters as attractive and heroic and fat characters as jokes at best and nonexistent at worst. They are astonishingly heteronormative: my sociology professor, out of sheer irritation with people saying Heather Has Two Mommies was inappropriately putting sexuality in children’s media, once wrote a paper analyzing every reference to heterosexuality in a Disney movie. There are a lot. And Disney presents unrealistic and stereotyped ideas of femininity and masculinity, reinforcing inaccurate ideas of the Prince Charming and the Beautiful Princess.

I don’t want to say that Disney has never been progressive. Mulan could not be more feminist if it dropped an anvil on the viewer’s head with WOMEN CAN DO ANYTHING MEN CAN DO written on it; the movie also has Harvey Fierstein in it and seems to be arguing that crossdressing can solve every problem ever, both of which as a queer feminist I must appreciate. The Princess and the Frog has some very interesting class and race commentary: in fact, in parts, it almost seems to be a critique of the American Dream. Both Prince Naveen and Tiana are refreshingly non-stereotypical. Progress has been made, in part because people keep calling them out on their shit. Let’s keep up the good work.

This entry was posted in noseriouslywhatabouttehmenz, the media and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

79 Responses to Disney Masculinity

  1. BlackHumor says:

    …you know, I was going to post “But using Gaston as an example of masculinity isn’t a good idea because the point of his character is that even though he’s the best at everything and super-hot Belle still doesn’t like him because he’s a dick.”

    But then you did. So, uh, great!

  2. balconyscene says:

    Great food for thought Ozy, thing is…in my opinion, it feels like men are not allowed to be imperfect either. And I say this as someone who delighted in having little empathy for the failings of my fellow males.

    Perhaps that’s why I worry when I see women having any sort of sympathy for womanly failings of any kind, because I had little empathy for men.

    Point is, “Women lose their agency to be imperfect” could easily translate into “It’s a feminist’s duty to revel in being imperfect because no good man would ever dare want a perfect woman.” Which is all well and good, but to what extent are men allowed to sin and fall short of God’s glory?

  3. clarence says:

    At last a Disney critique by a feminist that is appropriately nuanced.
    And it’s obvious you even like some Disney stuff, which is a bonus.
    I agree one hundred and ten percent.

  4. monkey says:

    What does it say that I always idenitified with Dopey?

  5. L says:

    I wonder how well a comment of the likes of “men are often assholes” would go over here?

    At any rate, it’s a decent critique. I think Disney princessdom is problematic because it usually demands perfection from both girl and hero; neither are really allowed to make mistakes, and the vast majority (if not the entirety) of their conflict arises due to outside forces, i.e. the bad guys. Plot and development is something that’s usually “inflicted” on them. When a female lead is actually granted the agency to be imperfect, you get a character like Meg from Hercules, who isn’t even an honorary princess. No little girl wants to be Meg– they just want a Hercules. (Though Ariel is allowed to make a grave mistake, the rest of that movie bothers me on too many other levels.)

    Likewise, do any little boys actually want to be Beast? He’s the only example that I can think of for a flawed male “hero” character. And of course that would translate to him being grotesque and misshapen.

  6. Vicky says:

    Disney seems to have heard these objections and responded to them, but the new stereotype they’ve put into place isn’t much better. The Princess and The Frog and Tangled have made progress in their portrayal of women, but the male main characters are lazy man-children that the women have to mold into contributing members of society.

  7. debaser71 says:

    From what I can tell, things specific for kids is only part of what influences them. Anyway what I appreciate about Disney is that they generally don’t do sex. They leave that stuff for ABCFamily.

  8. @Vicky With Tangled especially, the Disney animators did a survey of women to make Flynn the most attractive bait possible. And Naveen from Princess And The Frog is awesome in that he actually has a personality, he isn’t just a cardboard perfect prince like the earlier ones.

  9. Ferris says:

    I was a bit disappointed here because it seems like we’ve gone from “How does Disney’s portrayal of women affect women” to “How does Disney’s portrayal of men affect… still women.” It feels a bit like ahabbing, especially when there’s so much to talk about in terms of the portrayal of men and its effect on boys and their perception of masculinity and themselves.

  10. Paul says:


    “Likewise, do any little boys actually want to be Beast? He’s the only example that I can think of for a flawed male “hero” character. And of course that would translate to him being grotesque and misshapen.”

    I wanted to be Beast as a kid. About midway through the movie, after he stops being a -total- jerk. …then again, I have a thing for werewolves, so that might be part of it

    Also, whether they’ll admit it or not, I’m pretty sure most (straight) guys have a disney crush and Belle was mine.

  11. Mulan could not be more feminist if it dropped an anvil on the viewer’s head with WOMEN CAN DO ANYTHING MEN CAN DO written on it; the movie also has Harvey Fierstein in it and seems to be arguing that crossdressing can solve every problem ever, both of which as a queer feminist I must appreciate.

    I mostly agree (Mulan is my favorite Disney). But from a feminist perspective, the character of Chi Fu (the emperor’s adviser) is a gender-depiction disaster; his lack of masculinity (high voice, cowardice, etc) are constantly made fun of in the movie, and James Hong decided to portray his voice with an over-the-top lisp for lines like “You will do well to teach your daughter to hold her tongue in a man’s presence.”

    But if not for Chi Fu, Mulan would be very nearly a perfect feminist kid’s movie. (Despite failing the Bechdel test.)

    (Speaking of Mulan, a horrifying note from Wikipedia: “Mulan originally began as a short, straight-to-video film titled “China Doll” about an oppressed and miserable Chinese girl who is whisked away by a British Prince Charming to happiness in the West.” Yipes!).

  12. clarence says:

    Yes, Barry, heaven forbid we ever say anything good about the west.

    It’s true some women in Islam, for example, love their religion and will resist feminist attempts to reform it in more egalitarian ways. However, there’s no doubt quite a few Muslim women who would be happier HERE in the bad ol` evil USA, or better yet some place like Iceland in that formerly “whiter than white” place known as Europe.

  13. clarence says:

    That being said IF there is anything to that rumor ..well the TITLE is offensive.
    But I think the point I’m making is that if it was a Chinese Film about a Chinese Prince that seduced a US girl and took her to a happy ever after life in China (without the foot bindings!) there’d be not a peep from you.

  14. noahbrand says:

    Anyone else think there’s also a rather narrow definition of “cool” presented in Disney heroes? I mean, when we’re talking about qualities that boys want to emulate, I think we need to put cool near the top of the list, and there is no question whatsoever that boys get their images of cool from media. (Not to say girls don’t, but for fuck’s sake, I grew a mullet because MacGyver had one.)

    Point is, despite their movies coming out twenty years apart, can anyone point out a difference between the characters of Aladdin and Flynn that doesn’t involve the words “monkey”, “ethnicity”, or “vest”?

  15. noahbrand says:

    @clarence: I can’t speak for Barry, but as a longtime aficionado of Chinese films, I’ve spent twenty years being appalled at the racism and xenophobia that too often characterize non-Western cultures just as much as Western ones. So, again speaking just for myself, your assumption seems very strange to me, in a “What? Why would someone say that?” kind of way.

  16. clarence says:

    Good points, Noah. Alas, I’m not able to find any because (with the exception of Tangled which is the movie that has Flynn in it, hey give me a break, I’m 40) I haven’t seen any of the Disney movies (unless you count Pixar) of the past 10 years. Well, ok, I think there is ONE: Aladdin doesn’t seem as confident sexually as Flynn is – but then Flynn is supposedly like 25 or 28 or something and Aladdin is what, maybe 20 if not a teen in the movie? Plus Flynn is a bit less of a “Robin Hood” type of thief (it’s implied he does some of this for himself) while Aladdin is a street rat who needs to steal to eat so I think they’ve tried to give Flynn more of a “world wary” character type.
    Still, there is little difference between Aladdin and Flynn when you think about it. Both are brash, outwardly confident, smart, quick thinkers, brave, etc. I’d almost swear they had the same voice actor as well.

  17. clarence says:

    I’m a long time lurker (and only a very occasional commenter) at Alas.
    I think I know how Barry rolls when it comes to non-western versus western. He ties it all into a neat little bundle with racism using a progressive bow.

  18. Noah, it’s true that the two movies have very similar “charming rogues” characters, but I don’t think that character appears in any other Disney features, so I don’t think you can reasonably claim that it’s the go-to Disney male character.

    The most recent Disney animated feature I’ve seen was this year’s “Winnie the Pooh,” which has a lot of positive and charming male characters, none of who are anything like Aladdin or Flynn. (OTOH, none of them were at all cool.) “Hunchback” had a cool, positive male character who wasn’t a rogue (Captain Phoebus). The genie in Alladdin was cool but not a rogue.

    Clarence, thanks ever so much for your fair, reasonable analysis of what you imagine I’d say to a hypothetical situation. I’m sure your portrait of me is completely accurate, and not at all a boorish caricature.

  19. Paul says:

    I dunno, whether the “China Doll” rumor is true or not (remember it’s Wikipedia.) It’s a film that was never actually made. I can’t see the logic in holding a company responsible for a problematic idea that never left the concept phase.

  20. clarence says:

    If you want me to bring up some of the past posts on your blog concerning racism and/or non-western cultures I could very easily do so, though since this post is not about that, I will refrain.
    If you DENIED what I said, I’d take you at your word, but instead you prefer to stomp your foot and pretend that I have no reason to suspect you’d act exactly in that way.
    This is my last post on the topic, as it is not Disney related in terms of masculinity but I have to wonder why you brought it up in the first place.

  21. Vertel says:

    Neh… I find myself heavily distrustful of the original video. I can see what they’re trying to say, but they deliberately take a huge number of scenes and clips out of context and use them to, in some cases, say the exact opposite of what the scene actually conveys when seen in full context. That sort of intellectual dishonesty calls their entire argument into question, regardless of how right or proper their final conclusion might be.

  22. Paul, I don’t think I’m “holding them responsible” for it, whatever that means. I just thought it’s such an awful idea that it’s funny[*], and I thought Ozy and other folks here might find it funny too.

    [*] There isn’t a word that simultaneously means both “appalling” and “funny,” but there should be.

    Clarence, thank you for your invitation to have a respectful debate about your proposition that I’m not merely a racist, but an unusually vapid and obvious racist. Respectfully, I decline.

  23. clarence says:

    I fail to see where saying you have a double standard when it comes to non-western as opposed to western cultures is calling you “racist” Barry, but whatever.I suppose if, in the future that I complain that you have a double standard about some particular feminist issue , you’ll accuse me of calling you a misogynist.

    If it makes you feel any better I do not think you are racist OR misogynist, I merely think you are “progressive” and thus have your own blinders on about certain things.

  24. Vejuz says:

    It’s interesting how the portrayal of women in these films has loosened and twisted a bit from their very limited roles (to the point where, in my opinion, nearly all Disney Princess movies play as if with the same exact male and female leads given pallet swaps) but the roles for men have more or less stayed the same. (although I admit I haven’t seen many Disney movies since I was a kid. I didn’t see Mulan until I took an Asian Feminism college course last year.)

    Which is not to say that good-guy masculinity in Disney movies isn’t objectifying; it is just not “women as objects for pleasure” objectifying. Instead, good-guy masculinity is pedestalizing. Good men in Disney movies treat women like, well, princesses. They see that they’re beautiful and then are willing to suffer any pain, endure any torment, do any deed, in order to earn her love.

    It strikes me as pedestalizing going in both directions. The Princess character is also pedestalizing her prospective mate as the ultimate success object, not only willing to do literally anything for her, but also invariably able to do so in the end. Disney seems to be introducing children to the sex/success object narrative of heterosexual relationships, in which the male values the woman for her sexuality, and the female values the man for his ability. In other words, Disney is simultaneously telling children what they aught to be and also what they aught to desire. That’s….fairly disturbing, since these ideas are so limiting. Looking at it through this lens, it looks like indoctrination.

  25. monkey says:

    I think that part of this is due to good old commerce. Princesses sell in a way that the Disney male leads don’t. (The big exception, of course, being The Lion King).

  26. guest says:

    I don’t know. Disney is not the worst in this biz, and later movies (Tangled, anyone?) don’t fit this model. I have more trouble with the heroine being always a princess than I do with the masculine stereotypes. Gascon is the villain, and when the hero and villain fight, the female lead always previously has been given lots of good reasons to favor the hero.

  27. I suppose if, in the future that I complain that you have a double standard about some particular feminist issue , you’ll accuse me of calling you a misogynist.

    You’re right! Suggesting that you’d implied I’m a racist was over-the-top, and I apologize for that.

  28. Oh Disney movies! Without your villains, I’d have no songs to sing in my vocal range.

    Harvey Fierstein! ❤ He’s so lovable I’d sell little stuffed Harvey Fiersteins to kids, if I could get the rights. He also delivers, as Yao, my favorite line in Mulan. “I’ll get that arrow, pretty boy. And I’ll do it with my shirt on.

  29. Oh good! My comments are working again. :> Whew! I thought I’d been banned.

    But since this seems to be waaay too durn long for a comment:

    No, Seriously, what about the Disney Men?

  30. superglucose says:

    There are some good points in this video but I think they missed the forest for the trees.

    Also if you’re going to include Pixar, you have to look at *all* of pixar. Toy Story’s heroes? Woody wasn’t “barrel-chested.” A Bug’s Life was about a nerdy inventor. It’s kind of hard to say Monster’s Inc was about big, beefy heroes, just two regular guys. The Incredibles had a barrel chested main character. Finding Neemo was about a somewhat dorky and overprotective father.

    This gap in their research rather detracts from the point, and I definitely do not believe that the characters and their motivations can be taken out of the context of the movie. A character who starts as sexist, even if he or she is the main-character-hero-protagonist, CANNOT be considered an endorsement of sexism if during the course of the movie he or she is shown to grow beyond that original limitation.

  31. noahbrand says:

    Oh Disney movies! Without your villains, I’d have no songs to sing in my vocal range.

    Oh, tell me about it. Fuckin’ tenors get EVERYTHING.

  32. Heh. Our online radio channel was doing a gender flip song contest, once. A friend of mine did “Part of Your World” so I busted out “Poor Unfortunate Souls.” I thought Ursula did pretty well as a baritone.

    Somehow my most important paragraph, the summary, was chopped off my blog post. It’s corrected and al,l but I thought since folks might be reluctant to follow links I’d copy it here. I think it stands okay on its own. Everything stated is from the viewpoint of the Disney universe, rather than actual reality.

    Women’s roles are interesting because they improved without much changing. It used to be that if a woman was kind and remained morally pure, she would persevere through her oppression and receive her reward. Now with women it tends to be if the world would just give her an opportunity, then she’ll prove how awesome she is. Either way, women need relief, help and opportunity to fix the incorrect world. Men need guidance, correction, and discipline to be fixed for the world.

  33. Karalora says:

    I’ve seen this video before, and my immediate response was pretty much the same as Ozy’s–the creator undermines their point by taking scenes and characters completely out of context. There’s a hell of a lot to criticize about Disney films, and those of us who are fans should be the first and loudest to cry foul when they mess up, but let’s at least make sure our criticisms are well-targeted.

  34. ozymandias42 says:

    Noah: I’m a tenor when I sing, and yet I sing the villain songs ANYWAY, because they are cool and I don’t see why my voice should stick me in boring-ass heroic roles when the villain songs are clearly way more badass. 🙂

  35. superglucose says:

    I’ve never understood the attitude that the villains are more cool. Like the people who think Darth Vader is the greatest:

    “Sweet, this guy is essentially a terrorist-enforcer of an authoritarian regime built on the back of racist dogma, genocide, and religious control! He’s SO cool that he blows up entire planets full of people on a whim! How I wish I was more like him…”

  36. ozymandias42 says:

    Darth Vader is cool because he’s the protagonist– his internal arc from hero to villain to hero is the main plot of the series. Plus, he actually does shit. The heroes essentially spend the entire Original Triology reacting to stuff Darth Vader is doing. People like people who do shit much more.

    Villains in musicals are well-liked because it is traditionally accepted that the Villain Song is, in any musical, just about the best song.

  37. Clarence says:

    I back Ozy on the Villain songs being more cool, BUT Balcony, don’t worry the prequels took care of Darth Vader. The love scene acting was wooden and awkward and they made Darth Vader downright WHINY: that “noooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo” when he found out Padme died has been mocked endlessly. And it’s not that I couldn’t believe or deal with him being sorry she died, it’s just the way they did it was rather easy to parody and most of his angst in the prequels seems fake or contrived, and rather petty to boot. This isn’t a kid who suffered tremendous wrongs at the hands of the Jedi or the Universe in general. Now , all that being said I could JUST BARELY “buy” the Anakin we saw in the prequels turning into the tortured yet very merciless Darth we saw in the original series. My 2 brothers can’t believe they are the same person, and thus the character is kind of ruined for them.

    The Emperor was far more admirable a villain in the Prequel than Anakin. He was honestly in it mostly for himself and he was very effective at it.

  38. Tumbleweed says:

    Ozymandias has it correct. Villains are cool because they do stuff and get the best song. Not because they’re evil.

  39. Tumbleweed says:

    So, what villain songs do you all like. There’s some great ones outside of Dinsey.
    In the Dark of the Night from Anastasia (not Disney, honest) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P1vDqgsbyhQ

    Shiver my Timbers from Muppets Treasure Island http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RisL9l8HzmM

    Christopher Lee has a great villain song, Choose your Poison. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p8W2fkhfFPc

  40. elementary_watson says:

    No, ozy, I will never ever EVER accept that “my, my, this here Anakin guy” is the protagonist of the whole series. (Plus, in the Prequels he simply is *not cool*!) The original Star Wars had Vader as a kind of Dark Bishop of an Ancient Religion (actually one level above Dark Mage) in an empire bent on technological domination, which gives him the era of mysterious menace, and he was cool even then before getting his internal arc (which nothing in the first movie foreshadowed).

    Apart from his dark mysteriousness, it helps coolness if one never ever is flustered, and Vader is always extremely calm; Vader is even more serene in his “being one with The Force: Dark Edition” than Obi-Wan is in “being one with The Force: Light Edition” (and Yoda is a bit too eccentric to really be seen as cool in the sense of little kids going “I want to play/be Yoda!”).

    And also, [nerd alert] it was frikking Grand Moff Tarkin who blew up Alderaan, not Vader. Vader didn’t even really believe in the Death Star. [/nerd alert]

  41. noahbrand says:

    I’m with elementary_watson on this: I don’t think Vader-as-protagonist is defensible. I mean, yes, George Lucas said he was, but if we take George Lucas’s word about Star Wars, then Greedo shot first. Me, I’ll be over here on the The Author Is Dead party boat. Who wants to join me?

    Now, let’s assume a six-movie series in an ideal world, possibly the one Lucas envisioned before his beard took over his brain, possibly just the one we wanted to believe in before 1999. We cannot judge our dear Ozymandias for not getting this, as I’m pretty sure she has no memories before 1999. In this hypothetical, Anakin Skywalker was the protagonist of the first three movies, a tragic hero who struggled with the good and evil inside himself, and who broke our hearts when his tragic flaws overcame him and he fell irrevocably to the Dark Side, thus handing seeming victory to the Empire. By turning evil, Vader gives up his protagonist status and is demoted to a villain. In this scenario, Luke’s tale becomes one of a faint hope born of tragedy, one that grows stronger and stronger until it eventually triumphs. In this scenario, Vader killing the Emperor is not so much a redemption arc (there’s no fuckin’ arc, is there?) as a little applause moment, a callback to that brave young man we rooted for through the first three movies, a way of saying to the audience “Hey, remember when this guy used to be awesome?”

    Except, of course, that with the actual first three movies he made, Lucas made sure that the audience’s response would be “No, George. We do not remember that because he was never awesome. He was a horrible little shit and we’re glad he’s dead.”

  42. noahbrand says:

    Oh, and on villain songs… I can never resist Sondheim, and neither should you: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J7LhNCK2axY

  43. Nothing beats Sondhiem, but I’ll offer a few other picks anyway…

    Of the Disneys, I think the best villain song is Poor Unfortunate Souls” from Little Mermaid (with Pat Carroll kicking a thousand kinds of ass in the vocals).

    “Mollasses to Rum to Slaves” from 1776. The right actor can turn the stage into Hell with this song.

    And back to Sondheim.

  44. monkey says:

    You know what? I have a friend who’s a baritone, and he gets some awesome roles. He was the Modern MAjor General in Pirates of Penzance and it was very cool. He also does an amazing “You’re A Mean One,Mr. Grinch.”

    As to villains being more interesting… The point is not whether Vader is a good guy or not. The point is that compared to him, Luke seems like a whiny twit.

  45. elementary_watson says:

    The point is not whether Vader is a good guy or not. The point is that compared to him, Luke seems like a whiny twit.

    And then the prequels came along and made Luke seem so much more mature … 😉

  46. The_L says:

    Vertel: The Mulan scenes are especially troubling. The songs in question (and their Distaff Counterpart, “Honor To Us All”) are meant to show how horribly sexist society was, and the constrictiveness of traditional gender roles for both men and women. That’s the point–and the songs also underscore Mulan’s bravery in defying those gender roles. Let’s also not forget that the soldiers infiltrate the Hun camp at the end by cross-dressing. To act as if the movie Mulan is sexist is a pretty huge lie. You can argue that about the traditional Princess movies*, but Mulan? Seriously?

    And then there’s Gaston. No one lies like Gaston, no one dies like Gaston, by the end no one else is despised like Gaston! 🙂

    As for The Little Mermaid, there’s a lot going on there. First of all, Ariel’s only 16. A lot of 16-year-old girls make really stupid decisions. Second, Eric was only a catalyst for her–from the beginning of the film, she is shown to be obsessed with human culture and artifacts (see “Part Of Your World”) and probably would have done something just as dramatic eventually anyway. Third, while Eric doesn’t actually see Ariel’s face at the beginning, he does know that that mystery woman saved his life–implying bravery and kindness, two traits that are admirable in both men and women. (Plus, it takes a lot of physical strength to move an unconscious adult around.) The singing voice is just the icing on the cake–and a handy means of identification, if Ursula hadn’t been around. And let’s not forget who saves the day at the end–it sure isn’t Eric! The film certainly isn’t a feminist movie by any means, but I don’t view it as being sexist on the order of, say, Cinderella (whom Prince Charming falls in love with based entirely on her appearance).

    I do, however, think that we need to combat a lot of the negative ideas in Disney movies (especially those pesky Princess films!) Talking to kids, and encouraging shows** and films that encourage a broader view of “being a girl” or “being a boy,” can help counteract the whole Disney sexism issue a lot. 🙂

    @Noah: We altos have the same problem. Every song for female solo assumes a soprano, and almost every choral piece gives sopranos the melody. 😦 Thank the gods for bands like Nightwish.

    @Tumbleweed: I’ve always adored “Be Prepared,” but The Lion King is a perpetual favorite of mine, so I may be a bit biased.

    *By “traditional Princess movies,” I am referring to the films (mostly produced before the feminist movement of the 70’s) that portray the Princesses as existing primarily to look pretty and attract the attention of a man. Pocahontas and Mulan are also part of the Princess line (though they are often ignored because they are less glamorous), but aren’t quite as problematic from a feminist perspective.

    **One of the reasons I LOVELOVELOVE the new My Little Pony series is because it emphasizes that there are lots of ways to be a girl other than the traditional feminine ideal, and that they’re all OK. None of the 6 main characters are treated in any way as inferior for the way they act. The only real problem I have with the series is that the male characters get so little screentime, and are mostly nameless background characters (I can count the exceptions on one hand). I know male viewers aren’t the original target demographic, but still.

  47. monkey says:

    @elementary_watson: I call that the Kurtz Effect: the impact of a villain is inversely proportional to the amount of time he actually appears in the story. Vader only appears for about 11 minutes in all of the original movie. \
    @The_L: Are you familiar with a phenomenon called Bronies?

  48. L says:

    Frollo’s “Hellfire” is -clearly- the best Disney villain song: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EyS3weMlxLA

    And if you’re into funny, then Gaston’s song. (One of my favorite ones anyways.)

  49. monkey says:

    @elementary_watson: I think Vader is a good example of what I call The Kurtz Effect, named after the character in Heart Of Darkness: A villain’s appeal is inversely proportional to the amount of time the villain appears. Vader, for example, has only about 11 minutes of screentime in the original movie.

  50. ozymandias42 says:

    I cannot believe we’ve gotten this long in a discussion of villain songs without mentioning Friends on the Other Side. He’s like the Genie, except EVIL.

  51. Picking a favorite Disney movie song is like picking a favorite child. I have a lot of fun singing King Louie’s, I Wanna Be Like You.

    The villain song I perform the best, (and maybe counts a Disney song now?) is Oogie Boogie’s Song. This was just an improv command performance that a friend caught on camera. I’m usually about as willing to be filmed as Bigfoot.

    As far as villain songs I love singing apart from Disney: Mean Green Mother. And if you prefer classics: Master of the House

  52. Doug S. says:

    Awesome Villain songs? How about almost the entire soundtrack to Chicago?

    One you probably haven’t heard, though: “It Will All Be Mine” from Pokemon Live. (It was better in person; Youtube doesn’t do it justice.)

  53. Karalora says:

    On the subject of the early fairytale movies*, it’s interesting to note that Aurora is not actually the protagonist of Sleeping Beauty, and neither is Prince Philip. They both get some POV screentime around the middle of the picture, but the actual protagonists are the three Good Fairies. They make every important decision, they storm Maleficent’s castle to bust the prince out of prison, and they support his derring-do every step of the way. Finally, they enchant his sword to slay the dragon. Those chubby old ladies are the heroes! And this in a movie from 1959!

    * Not “Princess movies.” The first Disney Princess movie–the first movie made with the intention of expanding the Princess brand–was The Princess and the Frog. The brand was only launched around about 2000, hard as that may be to believe given how ubiquitous it has become.

  54. Ikkin says:

    Hmm, I agree with you about most of this, but I have to quibble with this one bit:

    They see that they’re beautiful and then are willing to suffer any pain, endure any torment, do any deed, in order to earn her love.

    Do the Disney Princes really earn the Princesses’ love, or do they just earn the ability to be together?

    Going down the list, it seems like the male leads tend to already have the Princess’s love from the start: Snow White’s prince charms her with a song before she’s chased out of the castle, Sleeping Beauty’s was betrothed to her and also charmed her with a song, neither Cinderella’s nor Ariel’s intentionally does much of anything to gain their attention; Aladdin messes things up for himself by pretending to be a prince but already had Jasmine’s interest as a street rat, Simba needs to get over his own issues but never really needed to earn Nala’s attention, and Quasimodo doesn’t get a romantic subplot in the first place. Beast is probably the closest to earning Belle’s love, but in his case it’s more learning to be a decent human being that did it rather than taking on Gaston.

    There’s still a whole ton of gendered expectations and pedestalization there, of course, but I don’t think it’s the sort that implies that heroics will make a woman love you — it seems to be more on the line of earning a woman’s hand in marriage, with the obstructive father replaced by whatever villain they want to use for the movie (except in the case of Aladdin, where there really is an obstructive father for the male lead to deal with).

  55. S_Morlowe says:

    “When a female lead is actually granted the agency to be imperfect, you get a character like Meg from Hercules, who isn’t even an honorary princess. No little girl wants to be Meg– they just want a Hercules. (Though Ariel is allowed to make a grave mistake, the rest of that movie bothers me on too many other levels.)”

    I *loved* Meg. So much. Between her and Ariel, I was set for life: Ariel was like the cool teenager, who rebelled and got herself in-and out- of trouble; and Meg is Ariel all grown up– she’s the woman who’s learned from her mistakes, and she’s smart and sarcastic and just plain hilarious! Plus she was really pretty, and really brave too: rescuing her old boyfriend? And standing up to Hades? Yeah, they’re still my two favourite Disney heroines.


  56. L says:

    @S_Morlowe: Haha, really? Then again, I didn’t pay quite as much attention to the princesses themselves when I was young. I was busy wanting to be Maleficent in her dragon form, or Pegasus, or Mushu, or Meeko… yeah, my gender was broken growing up. :B

    Interesting take, though. I’ll have to keep that in mind the next time I watch em.

  57. monkey says:

    Well, if you think about it, the prince in Snow White is a total dud.

  58. Velah says:

    @ Monkey…yeah, what does he do? He kisses (non-consensual) a sleeping girl and? It’s been a while since I’ve seen Snow White, does this guy do much of anything else?

  59. Flyingkal says:

    Randy Milholland, cartoonist and author of Something Positive, has done a piece on Snowwhite and her prince…

  60. Flyingkal says:

    Except that it was “Sleeping Beauty” and not “Snow White”, but whatever…

  61. The_L's Wii (computer experiencing technical difficulties) says:

    OMG, you guys, the Disney Princess page on teh Disney Wiki uses the word “heroinism.” Does the quality of being heroic really need a separate term just for women?

    @monkey: That’s why I said “original target demographic” instead of “viewing demographic.” 😉 But OC bronies don’t count as characters on the show. Every villain is female, every hero is female, and the male characters are all in the background.

    @flyingkal: No, Prince Phillip kills a dragon and fights his way through an enchanted rosebush. The Prince from Snow White just walks up to the glass coffin, kisses her, and they ride away. The freakin’ huntsman does more in that movie.us

  62. monkey says:

    @Velah: Like I said, I liked Dopey. Altho9ugh part of me wanted to *be* Snow WHite.

  63. debaser71 says:

    I was going down t he list of top 100 Disney movies with my three daughters and almost all get groans from my kids. The one they liked the best, and only one that brought cheers was Wall-E.


    Some notes.

    1) singing in movies is a turn off unless it’s Jack Black style comedy.
    2) too many “old man” voices for main characters is a turn off
    3) movies where the princess is too “princessy” are a turn off
    4) movies with dogs (even singing ones) get a plus, even old one like Lady and the Tramp

    So like I said, they liked Wall-E the best. They liked Tangled too.

    Part of watching a movies with your kids is talking about what they liked, what they don’t like, what characters they liked, etc. This notion that if kids watch a movie they are stuck only with the surface level gender roles is simply not how it goes down in my house. My daughters are ages 10, 8, and 7.

    And in Sleeping Beauty (which is IMO one of Disney’s best) Prince Philip and Rose fall in love before Rose falls under the curse. And only “true love’s first kiss” can wake her. Nothing “rapey” at all. The story really is about the three good fairies.

  64. L says:

    @debaser: Second your Sleeping Beauty comment. It is by far one of the most stylistically perfect movies they’ve done (watch the “four men paint a tree” or something video that comes with the DVD, my god I wept), and yes, Aurora and Phillip were already in love and “together” mentally by the time the kiss happens. And honestly, it was either kiss her without asking, or let the entire kingdom stay asleep forever. But yes, the movie was “about” them, not about them. It was more about the Fairies and Malefescent, and even King Stephan and Hubert, than it was the kids. They’re plot devices more than characters.

  65. This reminds me of this post (http://2dteleidoscope.wordpress.com/2011/11/02/the-art-of-manliness-lessons-from-fatezero/) from the other end of the bloggosphere. Interesting reading for those who like anime.

    I’ve always been of the mind that fables and fairy tales are complicated because they use our baked-in understandings as a starting-point for the narrative. In these Disney cases, only the deliberately subversive (Mulan, Tangled, Princess and the Frog) ones break this mold because they come from an aware position, otherwise using our understood patriarchy-influenced tropes makes for faster storytelling.

  66. I don’t think you’d historically find a lot of boy embraced men in the Disney line, though. And that’s despite (or because of?) Disney generally spinning characters that have a much more recent mythos than the ladies. (Bambi, their very Errol Flynn styled Robin Hood, Sherlock Homes, Kimba the white lion, Tarzan… I’m still waiting for them to come out with Disney’s Star Wars, and Disney’s The Secret of NIMH.) The first one I can think of as having any large existing male fanbase was probably their version of Robin Hood. (Hey, Noah! There’s no reference to him being part of the noble or chivalrous class in that version. Snazzy, huh?) Hercules, Aladdin, and Simba seem to register as faint blips on the radar, but Disney men seem to stay succesfully wan with boys until Buzz Lightyear comes along. Pixar seems to be a whole other story when it comes to making boys pay attention to their characters.

  67. Amphigorey says:

    There is one major Disney male character that everyone wants to be: Captain Jack Sparrow.

  68. noahbrand says:

    @Amphigorey: Hey, who said I want to be a fey, oddly dressed, perpetually broke, perpetually drunk womanizer?


  69. monkey says:

    @Amphigorey: Muppets count as Disney, right? Because I’d love to be Kermit.

  70. monkey says:

    Actually, funny you should mention Jack Sparrow, because back in the day it was the live action Disney movies that I really loved. Pete’s Dragon, even the old Zorro….

  71. Well… yeah. Of course. But he’s not animated. I mean, he’s not 2-dimensional. I mean he’s not a cartoon. You know what I mean.

  72. Borepatch says:

    L said:

    I think Disney princessdom is problematic because it usually demands perfection from both girl and hero; neither are really allowed to make mistakes

    Name me a Disney film where the plot doesn’t rely on the hero (or more often) heroine making a mistake.

    Disney has been wildly successful because their formula (and it’s clearly a formula) taps into something basic in the human spirit, and sings to young people. As a result, young children watch, and so parents buy. Disney is a cash machine, based on a trope that resonates with basic human story lines.

    While I’m sure that your Professor’s heteronormative paper is all very interesting, I’d think that a much more interesting analysis would be to compare the Disney formula with Joseph Campbell’s Hero With A Thousand Faces. You don’t have to go all evolutionary biological/plains of Africa to think that there’s been a selection for boys who are strong, smart, and determined, and for girls who are strong (in a different sense than boys), smart, and determined.

    I have no problem with serious critiques of Disney’s approach. They’ll stand or fall commercially on getting not just little girls, but little boys to watch their flicks. As a father of two little boys (who grew up in a family where Mom didn’t have much patience for “princesses”), I can say that you can do a lot worse than the Disney story lines. Some of them (Alladin) don’t have strong heroines, but the video doesn’t help its case by picking Beauty and the Beast as an example of weak, princess-ish girls. Huh?

    But interesting post.

  73. L says:


    “Name me a Disney film where the plot doesn’t rely on the hero (or more often) heroine making a mistake.”

    Beauty and the Beast. Belle makes no mistakes of any real consequence. The Lion King. Simba is simply tricked into thinking he made a mistake. Pocahontas. While it was probably a mistake to get involved with Smith, the movie writes the situation as though the pros vastly outweighed the cons, so that in the end she and Smith were in the right and everyone else what in the wrong, negating the mistake. Cinderella. The entire story just “happens” to her, and the movie’s main plot device, the glass slipper, turned out to be nothing more than a happy accident. Peter Pan. Neither Pan or Wendy seem to do much wrong. Mulan. She doesn’t really mess up. I guess you could argue that her revealed identity would have been it, but the mistake wouldn’t have happened if not for the wound she sustained.

    There are probably others, but I’ve got to get back to work for now.

  74. L says:

    Oops, and to add: yes, I understand that the entire purpose of stories in general is the protagonist struggling against something, but much of the time it seems like the mistakes aren’t actually due to the character’s agency and more just “right place, right time”, or something they did unwittingly, or bad circumstances that someone else put them into and no matter how they reacted it would have been lose-lose.

  75. Simba does disobey his father when he visits the elephant graveyard the first time. He makes the mistake of taking Timon and Poomba’s slacker advise. When Rafiki and Nala show up in his life he resists their corrective advise at first, which is why they need to call up Mufasa’s ghost. That’s the mistake Simba’s already learned not to make and he won’t make it again.

    Almost all protagonists make some mistakes. Most often they’re forgivable, are in fact the mistake of trust (Ariel-Ursula, Simba-Scar, Pinnochio-Fox, Aladdin-Jafar, Rapunzel-Mother Gothel) which places the blame on the liar. I think the D-males tend to be living with false philosophies more often than the D-females tho’. There’s a ‘if only you hadn’t been wrong this whole time, we could have been done with this much sooner,” trend.

  76. marc2020 says:

    The thing is though Disney don’t need to have the boy demographic watching their animated films any more, for one simple reason that everyone in this thread has overlooked, Disney now own Marvel which is instant boy bucks. Now I love Disney warts an all but this really has been the smarted move they ever made because not only do they finally get the converted young male demographic they have been craving for years they also get a budding young female demographic that’s into comics as well.It really is a win/win situation for Disney as they can abandone the antiquated Princess line for girls or at least strongly deemphasize it in favour of pushing the more gender neutral (in theory) world of Marvel.

  77. I- I wouldn’t push Marvel as gender neutral tho’. It’s more juvie oriented stuff is blessedly less alienating that it’s mainstream comic line, but comics, and I love comics, are probably just as bad as the Disney Princess stuff about which sex it courts in sexist ways, if not worse.

    You’re right that if anything might let Disney pull in more boy bucks it is that aquisition, (which is almost certainly why it happened.) However, I’ve wanted comics to get more inclusive for years now.

  78. marc2020 says:

    Of course you are right comics at the moment have a problem with the way they are written in regards to female characters but at least they show women being badass heroes, there is huge potential is what I’m saying and it doesn’t just have to be exclusive to comics Marvel have received allot of positive feedback from the cartoon show Avengers Earth’s Mightiest Heroes which has handled the cannon as well as its female characters very well especially the Wasp. Its not exactly Batman TAS (but then again what is,seriously was that show lightning in bottle or what?) but its proved to be a big hit and 3 more female heroes Ms Marvel, Black Widow and Mocking Bird are joining the cast in season 2. So I think there’s room for expansion beyond just the comics, not that they aren’t important mind you.

    Or maybe I’m just seeing the world through rose coloured glasses again.

  79. Jay Generally says:

    Avengers EMH has been pretty awesome, I agree. They did such a good job with Wasp that I’m dying to see what they do with Marvel.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s