fyre: (See No Evil)
[personal profile] fyre
This year, in the spirit of maturity and ripe old age, I'm having a Disney-themed birthday party. Of course, this means lots and lots of research into Disney. I think that watching the films in rapid succession is what made me notice certain recurring traits.

The main thing that now is actually starting to annoy me quite a bit is the passivity of the Disney heroines, even when they're the lead. I could do a whole rant on the colour-assignment of Disney villains or even the death-by-falling syndrome many of them are afflicted by, but will avoid that one now, but yes. The ladies.

I read recently that the writers of Aladdin were trying their best to buck this trend, and wanted Jasmine to rescue herself from the hourglass in the final confrontation, but were shot down by the studio, because she had to be rescued by Aladdin. Yes, I understand there's some hubris there, but really?

They have at least been trying to ease away from 'traditional values', with heroines actively wanting 'more'. It's no longer a case of "one day my Prince will come". It's more 'I want adventure'. During the 90s resurgence of Disney popularity and success, the girls were all wanting to be themselves, and know themselves, or even just have a little bit of independence. Of course, they ended up shackled by marital tradition by the end in most cases, but still. There was an effort there to show they weren't just man-hunting bridezillas sitting around and waiting for their Prince to show up.

Sadly, no matter how strong a female character is when it comes to a Disney film, for the most part they are subdued in some way in the final confrontation. For a few examples:
- Belle locked in a basement, saved by a teacup, despite being smart and surrounded by tools and having a window big enough to climb through. She does get the saving grace of being the one to pull the Beast to safety, but was generally quite passive otherwise.
- Ariel, never too bright anyway, stuck at the bottom of a sinkhole, being blasted.
- Rapunzel chained and held hostage by her not-mother.
- Cinderella locked in a room and saved by mice.
- Kida turned to semi-magical-powerful entity with all the power of Atlantis and yet, locked in a box.
- Jane knocked unconscious.
- Meg squished by a pillar (admittedly, while saving Hercules, but still, has to be saved in turn)
- Jasmine trapped inside a sandtimer (she was meant to use the diamond from her tiara to cut her way out. I would have liked to see that)
- Aurora napping

While this was socially acceptable in older films, where society still dictated that power belonged to men, there is no reason why this should still be the case. Fortunately, Disney has reached the point where they're not afraid of having women who have a matzi, brains and... well, more than a vague dream-is-a-wish-your-heart-makes thing.

Interestingly, the strongest women are often put opposite the most idealist, 'I have a dream' type young men: Meg in Hercules, Esmeralda in Hunchback, Amelia in Treasure Planet. They may not necessarily be the love interest (immediately or at all), but they act under their own authority, take charge of the situation, and generally were pretty frigging brilliant.

Sadly, even the strongest characters seem to get their Action stolen from them. Esmeralda and Amelia are both tough women. They're very much women, not girls, and early in the film, they show themselves to be capable, strong and efficient. However, in the final sequence, both are disabled: Esmeralda spends the whole final sequence either tied up or being carried around by Quasimodo. And actually, so does Amelia, except by Doppler. This seems to indicate that while it's all well and good being a strong and capable woman, just leave the rescuin' to the men there, little lady.

I think it's rather sad and telling that I can only think of two films where the heroine is both free and active during the final confrontation sequence:

- Mulan wherein she not only takes down the Hun army with a firework, but beats Shan Yu with nothing more than a shoe and a fan. In the final fight, she used what she had learned while in the army in concert with tools and traits which were definitively feminine. That was brilliant. Especially given that the rest of her army-buddies manage maybe four Huns all told. While dressed as women.

- Tiana who is given the choice of the easy way out (I see what you did there, Disney - Facile-ier. Heh) but instead stands by her morals despite having the one thing she's wished for dangled right in front of her. It's not just a physical victory over the villain, but there's an emotional resonance as well, as she is confident enough in who she is to know she could never be the person to take the easy way out.

I have to admit that while I liked Disney's latest offering Tangled, I was also very disappointed that this fantastic, modern, whimsical realisation of the Rapunzel tale had returned to the old adage of "let your hero save the day". Rapunzel does get a chance for some activity and is shown to be quite the aerial acrobat, but in the end, it comes down to who has her in the end - her boy or the villain.

I don't know if maybe the execs think the children in the audience would find it hard to believe a woman can be strong and able and not need to be rescued. I try to hope that they're not a bunch of chauvanists, insisting on adhering to social values which went out of date more than 50 years ago, but when their girls sit back (or get locked in a box/basement/attic etc) and let the boys show up and rescue them, my heart sinks a little.

Thus endeth the rant.
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October 2012

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