Disney only has two sets of female friendship in the Disney princess movies. I repeat: only two sets of female friends. That’s really, really bad. Come to think of it, Disney Princess movies in general are lacking in positive female interactions. Either we get a lack of women present, or their relationships are antagonistic in nature. There are a few proud exceptions, but not many.
Don’t believe me? Let’s take a quick trip through the halls of Disney Princess history and explore the nature of female relationships.
Snow White and the Seven Dwarves
The only two women in this movie are Snow White and her stepmother, the Evil Queen. And Snow White’s stepmother spends the majority of the movie trying to kill her because of her beauty, which doesn’t make for a healthy relationship. It’s interesting that the only two women we have in this film have an antagonistic relationship relating to beauty and power; it says a lot about women in society, who are often set up as competitors rather than coworkers. It’s a no for Snow.
Good news: Cinderella has a stepmother and stepsisters, which is a step up from Snow White. Bad news: her stepmother is the worst, and her stepsisters aren’t much better.
Instead of being treated like family, Cinderella is made into a servant by her stepfamily and constantly put down/ridiculed by them. There’s another antagonistic set-up here, with Cinderella’s stepsisters seeking marriage to the prince, and Cinderella inadvertedly coming into competition with them when she meets Prince Charming and falls for him.
There are also a few female mice, but Cinderella doesn’t seem particularly close to them. 😦 So no.
Our first sign of positive interaction: Sleeping Beauty gives us Briar Rose (aka Aurora) and the three fairies that raise her in seclusion to protect her from Maleficent. While the fairies tend to be a little oblivious, they mean well, and they take good care of Briar Rose. From the few interactions we see of theirs, it’s evident they care a lot about her, and want her to be happy. The surprise party for her birthday is a great example. Despite their no magic rule, they’re willing to go around it to make her present and her cake the absolute best. Nothing but the best for their Briar Rose!
They also play a key role in getting Prince Phillip free and giving him the tools he needs to defeat Maleficent, so that they can save Aurora. And then there’s that sweet scene when they tuck Aurora in under the sleeping curse, much like a parent tucking their child in.
While Aurora doesn’t have female friends, since she’s secluded in the woods, the fairies are maternal figures to her, so I’m going to fill this one under “sort of.” It could be better, but it’s progress.
The Little Mermaid
Ariel falls into the start of the “daughters with missing mothers and great relationships with their fathers” trend. Guys, I think Ariel’s relationship with Triton is awesome. And I think it’s important that Disney conveys so many great father-daughter relationships in their films. However, the lack of mother figures is really depressing, and I think it’s sad that like in most of the Disney princess movies, Ariel has a mother who isn’t around. It’s also sad that Ariel is one of seven sisters, and barely even interacts with her sisters throughout the movie. A woman she does interact with a lot is Ursula, the female antagonist, who spends the movie plotting against Ariel, steals her voice, and attempts to sabotage her relationship with Eric. No for Ariel.
Beauty and the Beast
B&TB doesn’t have a lot of women. The three most prominent ladies in Belle’s village are a set of blonde triplets who aren’t displayed in the best light. They fawn over Gaston and basically exist to be his fangirls.
In the castle, we have Belle’s wardrobe, who is nice, and we have Mrs. Potts, who is awesome, but she doesn’t interact with either of them a lot. So no.
Jasmine is our only prominent female character, which is really sad, because I would’ve loved if Jasmine had a friend. Poor girl is lonely in that castle with only her tiger to keep her company. Nope.
YES. Pocahontas is one of our few Disney princesses with a female best friend, who happens to be awesome. Nakoma and Pocahontas’ friendship is fantastic. They squabble like sisters, gossip about everything (including cute boys), and just hang out like most girls do.
Out of the two, Nakoma is the more level-headed and reasonable one, who tries to keep Pocahontas from doing anything too insane. But she’s also loyal, and tries to trust her friend’s judgment, even when she’s a bit unsure of Pocahontas sneaking around with John Smith.
And while Pocahontas’ mother isn’t around, she does have a grandmother figure around in Grandmother Willow. She’s the one that Pocahontas goes to when she’s in need of guidance, a good listening ear, or just for comfort in times of strife. While Grandmother Willow never tells her what she should doing, she instead teaches Pocahontas to trust her intuition and follow her heart, allowing her to become a stronger leader and have more faith in herself and her decisions.
Mulan has won the parental lottery, guys, because she not only has a father and a mother, but she also has a grandmother! Sadly, like a lot of the princesses, Mulan’s bond with her father gets more focus than her bonds with her mother and grandmother. Mulan also doesn’t have any female friends, although in her case, it’s slightly more forgivable considering she’s posing as a man in the army and ends up surrounded by dudes. So no, but one that’s slightly more forgivable than other films due to the circumstances involved.
The Princess and the Frog
Heck yes. This movie is the jackpot of female relationships in my opinion. There is this really awesome close-knit relationship between Tiana and her mother. There’s a years-long friendship between Charlotte and Tiana. There’s even a powerful woman named Mama Odie who assists our heroine on her adventure. But since Mama Odie is more supernatural assistance than friend, I’m going to focus on Tiana and her mom, and Charlotte and Tiana.
Tiana and her mom are awesome and close. We don’t get to see a lot of their interactions, but we get a nice glimpse of them when we see little Tiana, and we get a great scene where Tiana shows her mom the restaurant she wants to lease, which leads into “Almost There.” Unfortunately, after that, we don’t get much interaction from them, since Tiana is a frog for a majority of the movie.
Tiana/Charlotte we do get a lot of. We get a glimpse of little Tiana and little Lottie at the beginning of the movie, showing how long they’ve been friends, and they’re still close when we see them again.
Despite differing social class and race, Tiana and Lottie have a really strong friendship. Lottie knows Tiana well enough to know she can’t give her bestie any handouts, so she does things like hiring Tiana’s catering services so she can pay her and give her the remaining funds she needs to achieve her dream. She also lends Tiana a new outfit when hers gets ruined at the party, which is total best friend behavior.
Lottie also cares a lot about Tiana and her happiness. Like Tiana has her restaurant dream, Lottie’s dream is to be a princess. (Which I’m pretty sure a lot of us dreamed of, once upon a time.) When Naveen and Tiana fall in love while they’re stuck as frogs, Lottie offers to kiss him and forgo her dream of marrying into royalty, because she can see how much the two of them care for each other and there’s no way she’s getting in the way of that.
These two are fantastic. The whole movie could’ve just been about them being awesome and I would’ve been content.
Tangled has Rapunzel, Mother Gothel, and Rapunzel’s mother. Rapunzel doesn’t get a ton of time with her mother, but we see her with baby Rapunzel at the start, we see her and her husband’s grief after losing their daughter, and we see her at the end when she reunites with Rapunzel. It’s sad we don’t get a ton to go on, but the end of the movie establishes what should be the start of a prosperous mother-daughter relationship, so at least that’s something.
Mother Gothel and Rapunzel have a painfully abusive relationship. Mother Gothel berates and terrifies Rapunzel into submission to break her spirit and keep her in the tower. She wants Rapunzel to be dependent on her, so that she can harass the power of her hair and stay alive. Not exactly a healthy relationship.
She may have a budding relationship forming with her mother, but sadly, Rapunzel doesn’t really have any female friends. Boo.
I haven’t seen all of Brave, but I do know one thing: Merida, like Tiana, has a close relationship with her mother, and their bond is a big part of the movie’s plot.
Merida’s mother and Merida don’t always see eye to eye: they have different goals and outlooks, and Merida doesn’t always live up to her mother’s expectations, thus, they butt heads a lot. But Merida cares deeply for her mother, and vice versa. Merida’s accidental wish – and her attempt to undo it – bring mother and daughter closer together as the movie goes on.
I think this is probably the biggest mother-daughter focus we get out of any of the Disney Princess movies, which is pretty awesome because the bulk of Disney Princess relationships tend to be between fathers/daughters, or a princess and their significant other.
While we do get a mother-daughter relationship, Merida doesn’t have any female friends though, which is sad. Maybe we can get one in a sequel? 😉
And finally, we have Frozen. Frozen is kind of a weird one, because the only two prominent women in the movie are the leads, Anna and Elsa. Anna and Elsa sisters, who used to share a close bond that Anna is hoping to rekindle, despite Elsa’s avoidance of her. However, Frozen doesn’t do a great job of displaying their relationship.
Elsa and Anna are separated for a majority of the movie, and while they connect a little at the palace after Elsa’s coronation, they’re quickly separated afterwards, and only interact for a short time before Elsa’s powers freeze Anna’s heart and Anna and Kristoff are forced to flee. Next interaction: Anna steps in just in time to stop Hans from cutting down Elsa. Her act of true love both saves Elsa and defrosts her own heart, which is a nice twist.
I think Frozen is a draw for me. Elsa and Anna are close, and I enjoy the bond between them. It would’ve been nice though to see their bond better fleshed out, and see more women in the movie in general.
Conclusion (Aka, Why Is This So Important, Mel?)
Much like the Bechdel test, checklisting whether a movie contain female friendships or not doesn’t mean that it is a failure. However, it’s telling that there are only two prominent female friendships, and three strong mother-daughter bonds, within 12 Disney princess movies. Why are father-daughter bonds and romantic bonds prioritized over female friendships and mother/daughter bonds? Why are so many of the female interactions in Disney films negative and antagonistic in nature? In a society where women are torn down, pitted against each other, and strive to be “one of the boys”, positive female interactions in Disney movies, especially Disney princess movies, might promote stronger female relationships in everyday life for young girls and women. (It would also be good for boys as well, and it’d be nice to see more parents take an initiative to be more gender-neutral, but that’s another post in itself.)
Do you think Disney movies need more positive female interactions? What are your favorite Disney bonds? Let us know in the comments!