The modern heroine today is transcending the “tale as old as time” princess stories that have plagued our children’s books for centuries. From Cinderella’s future being wrapped up in her Prince Charming to Snow White’s life being saved by her true love’s kiss, young girls have been given this narrative that a man must be in her story in order to be completely whole. Since the emergence of Walt Disney and his animated classics in the 1950’s, Disney’s adaptations of these old stories and legends became formulaic and expected. For example, Mulan, one of Disney’s most ‘feminist’ archetype of a strong female leader from my generation (80s/90s babies aka, ‘millenials’) was based on an old Chinese tale of a transgender warrior who existed in Feudal China during the time of the dynasties. One can see how even in one of the most enlightened heroine movies, the true power of the story is lost as Mulan herself is given a modern love story with her military unit’s leader. Even my absolute favorite Disney tale focused on old gender roles in relationships and families; Ariel is depicted as an almost powerless female who must be given her voice back from her one true love. That summary in itself presents a highly symbolic but powerfully influential message on the minds of young girls (and boys!) who watch the movie over and over as children. The impact of children’s stories (more specifically, fairy tales) on the human psyche was first widely introduced by Sigmund Freud, detailed more heavily by his apprentice Carl Jung. The psychologists believed that fairy tales came from the same place as dreams in the subconscious. They influenced the unconscious minds and assisted in the development of children’s (and adults’) intellect. With this in mind, one must wonder how such storylines shape modern views of femininity, masculinity, and love in today’s society.
It seems as though Disney has been taking notes of their old narratives and have made it a point to update their messages. Starting with Frozen in 2013, Disney’s classic princess story got a major, progressive twist: ***SPOILER ALERT*** in the end of the film, the sisters must find true love in order to break Elsa’s curse. After a failed attempt with the male character of the story, audiences soon realize that the true love is between the sister Anna and Elsa. The love of a man was not NECESSARY to be a true love. The love story does not take the spotlight from the film’s plot (it enriches the characters, but isn’t the focus of the plotline). I remember seeing this film (after being dragged into the theatre by my little sister who proclaimed “YOU HAVE GOT TO SEE THIS!”); I literally bawled at the realization. It was the first time I felt profoundly connected and moved by a “princess movie” in that way. Since then, Disney has not held back. They have concentrated on giving children a more healthy perspective on what it means to be a woman or man in today’s confusing world.
With the acquisition of Lucasfilm LTD. in 2012, Disney began utilizing a new platform to enlighten this new generation of young minds. With the resurgence of the Star Wars franchise, young girls and boys today are having a much more diversely-represented cast than they have ever seen before. This is extremely important because, as arbitrary as some may believe, representation is invaluable to children. It IS important, as well as it is NECESSARY. I truly believe with such representation as seen in the characters of Princess Leia and Rey, as well as the diverse cast of the highly successful Rogue One, along with what characters and casts the later films will bring, future generations will be exposed to messages of inclusivity and intersectionality.
This is the comfort I gather; the arts that cannot be silenced or repressed (regardless if they are threatened with lack of funding); their messages will be on social record and will have lasting impacts on us as a society through the little minds of our children.