I know, I know, I bang on about this stuff a lot. But let’s be honest, female characters in Disney films don’t get the best of deals. From your stereotypical damsel in distress waiting to be rescued by a man, to the woman that exists merely as a pretty accessory to him, it’s always been rare that a female character actually breaks the mold and stands out on her own. Thankfully we’re seeing more and more strong female leads now (Moana, Rey and Jyn Erso are hands-down the most amazing characters I’ve seen in ages) but there are other women worthy of a mention, too…
You simply cannot talk about strong independent women within the Disney universe without mentioning Mulan. Shunning the traditional responsibilities of a woman in China, disobeying her family AND disguising herself as a man to fight alongside a group of (admittedly somewhat inept) men, and ultimately saving the city? Yes, girl.
Obviously I’m not advocating disobedience, kids. But I sure am advocating not letting anyone else tell you who you should be, who you should marry, or how you should spend the rest of your life. Mulan personifies the strength, wisdom and integrity missing in so many of her female counterparts.
A woman whose main aim in life is to achieve financial independence and stability? I can get on board with that.
Even as a frog, Tiana exudes strength and intellect. Proving that a woman can maintain her dreams, work hard (this woman literally does not stop), and achieve what she wants out of life without needing a man to do it for her, Tiana is, quite literally, a boss.
This one is cause for some debate, I feel, but some dodgy animation choices aside (like Belle smiling while being forced to eat and dance with her captor…) I think Belle is a pretty kick-ass lady.
Selfless and intelligent, Belle isn’t interested in the misogynistic plonker that is Gaston, preferring instead to concentrate on bettering herself and learning. She gives herself as a captive in exchange for her father, and eventually looks beyond the appearance of her furry captor to fall in love with the person he really is. And then he becomes a dashing prince. D’aww.
In my opinion, one of the most under-rated Disney Princesses ever created. Shunning arranged marriage isn’t a new concept for Disney, no, but Merida broke the mould in other ways. Breaking a lot of the expected gender norms for a female Disney protagonist, she is a perfect example of showing that women come in all shapes and sizes (despite the baffling choice to make her slimmer and bustier when her action figure was released…), and that they’re all different. Brave is a touching tale of the love and connection between a mother and her daughter, but more over it’s a bloody good example of how being yourself is more important than doing what’s expected of you simply because of your gender.
Instilling feminism in children without them even noticing, Pocahontas is one of the few (possibly even the only) female characters from a Disney movie to actually choose her own destiny over a man.
Admittedly, hers is a love story worthy of telling – she isn’t in need of rescuing, in fact she rescues him, and she encourages her tribe to be more accepting of John as an outsider. However, fiercely independent and wilful as she is, ultimately she parts ways with the love of her life to fulfil her own aims.
I was actually unsure of whether to include Elsa in this or not. Part of me loves that her story has absolutely nothing to do with a man, and it’s purely about her accepting and coming to terms with who she is. Another part of me really despises that doing so entails her running off in a strop and hiding the minute something goes wrong.
However, I’ve looked at Elsa in contrast to her sister, Anna, who’s main reason for living appears to be marrying the first man who looks in her general direction. So in that respect, perhaps a hormonal tantrum that freezes the entire kingdom for a while isn’t SO bad.
A film featuring a mother who’s also fighting for women’s rights was always going to be a winner for me, but Mary Poppins herself is also a pretty badass lady.
Not only does she put up the infuriatingly annoying Banks children, but Mary was an impeccably patient person who knew her worth and didn’t take any nonsense – even from her male employer, Mr Banks. You know, the epitome of anti-feminism, who never spent time with his kids til good old Poppins showed him what was important. That one.
From the get-go, Judy faces adversity and ridicule for dreaming about being a police officer. She’s a small (literally) town bunny with a heart of gold and big dreams, though, and Judy sets out to do exactly what she wants to do – prove everyone wrong and do the right thing along the way.
Optimistic almost to a fault and full of energy, Judy is a shining example of aiming high, and not letting other people belittle your choices in life. Judy does what Judy sets out to do, regardless of her size, and she absolutely kicks ass doing it.
She overcomes years of imprisonment to escape her tower and find out who she really is, and she doesn’t take any nonsense, either.
One could argue that she only escaped with the help of a man to show her the way, but I’d counter that with the fact that her sheer determination and will played a bigger part in it than the fact that a man happened to show up and facilitate her doing it a bit sooner than she might have. And besides, there’s more than one moment in Tangled where Rapunzel overcomes adversity herself; no mean feat for a chick who’s endured years of imprisonment and emotional abuse, huh? Rapunzel knows her worth and she fights for it.
I’ll admit this is a tenuous one but bear with me.
Dory is a frankly brilliant character. She’s clearly suffering mental illness, yet she perseveres and ultimately it’s her making Marlin see things from a different perspective and actually encouraging him to learn to trust her that gets the pair where they need to be. See? She CAN speak whale.
Dory’s story is furthered with the sequel Finding Dory, in which you clearly see her fight against her debilitating memory problems to discover who she really is and where she came from. I realise a lot of people at this point are thinking… ‘it’s a film about a fish..’ but actually, if you took Dory’s story, stripped out the kid-friendly factor and told the same story about a mentally handicapped human, it’d be pretty rough going.