A Princess for a New Generation
Issue: April-May-June 2021

A Princess for a New Generation

Move over, Cinderella, Belle, Snow White, Aurora, and the like, there's a new style of Disney princess who has taken over the kingdom.

While growing up, I, like many young girls, was mesmerized by the Disney princesses. I dressed up in those fancy dresses, strutted around in my tiara, romanticized about my handsome prince, and watched the classic movies as often as I could. Even as an adult, I waited hours in an excessively long line at Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom to get my picture taken with the classic women of royalty. (Hey, I wasn't the only adult in line who wasn't accompanied by a child in terms of age as opposed to heart.)

I remember the announcement by the studio in late 2010 that Disney Animation would no longer be producing princess movies - its bread and butter since releasing its first feature film, Snow White, in 1937. The announcement came shortly after Disney Animation released Tangled (which, by the way, had been reworked during production for a more "modern" audience).

What?! Either the studio was joking about that decision concerning its princesses, or I had misheard the bewildering news.

After the initial shock, the reality of it set it. Little boys did not really buy into the genre, alienating a large portion of audience. And, it was getting difficult for girls today to relate. It appears that Disney figured things out faster than many of us: The princess formula was predictable and outdated. The princesses no longer had to sit around and wait for rescue by the handsome prince. They were fully capable of taking matters into their own hands and becoming the heroines of their stories.

All things princess started to change a bit in the 1990s with Pocahontas and Mulan, two assertive, brave, independent women. But when CGI took over the genre, we were introduced to some amazing women who just happened to be princesses. 

Tangled was the first CGI princess story, and soon after we started seeing significant transformations in official (and non-official) Disney princesses - heroines who took action. Brave's Merida (2012) was really the first Disney princess who broke the typical stereotype. She did not focus on her beauty, she wasn't a chanteuse, and she certainly was not consumed with marrying her prince charming. Soon thereafter came Moana, the second princess without a romantic interest, who proves her bravery and exhibits extreme derring-do. Of course, there is also Elsa and Anna of Frozen, who save their own kingdom through their own actions.

Just recently we were introduced to the newest princess and one who definitely breaks the traditional mold. Raya, star of Raya and the Last Dragon, proves her combat and puzzle-solving skills to become a guardian of the sacred Dragon Gem - a role that decades ago would have been passed to the chief's son, not his daughter. When an evil is unleashed, the brave girl travels to the ends of the kingdom to save humanity. She is not the only strong woman in the film, either. Her combat skills are put to the test against her nemesis: a fellow female whose mother rules a rival tribe. Making this a true film for today's audiences, the story takes place in Southeast Asia, embracing the cultures of that region and giving us another Disney princess with a culturally diverse heritage.

Disney Animation has provided us new role models for a new generation of children and adults alike. Of course, that photo line for the traditional princesses at WDW will undoubtedly remain long, but now there are many other princesses strolling the parks who are much bolder than those from yesteryear, but who are still able to enchant us, albeit on a different level. Well done, Disney.