As cherished as Walt Disney Pictures’ animated output has been — with a public fondness dating all the way back to the company’s very first feature Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs — there is one persistent source of controversy attached to the lot: its illustration of women.
The esteemed position of Disney Princess often comes with little more than God-given physical beauty and a penchant for lying around all day waiting for some rugged fellow to save you from the clutches of a nefarious villain. Recent Disney exploits have striven to distance their princesses from these limitations, with the latest lass to make the list, Brave‘s arrow-wielding Princess Merida, perhaps being the best attempt yet. But it still isn’t quite enough.
On May 11, as reported by /Film, Scotland’s own Merida (voiced by Kelly Macdonald) will become the eleventh character to make the list of official Disney Princesses, and the first Pixar heroine to earn this honor (although, she didn’t exactly have much competition there, unless you count Jesse… or Dory… or EVE).
Merida does indeed reign superior to a good number of her peers on the list. The Snow Whites, the Sleeping Beauties, the Belles… yes, Belle was well-read and courageous, but in the end she really just succumbed to Stockholm Syndrome and settled for marrying a brawny dude with a lot of fancy dishware. And though Merida may not be perfect, opting to emulate her male companions rather than uphold her feminity as a source of heroism, she’s at least a step in the right direction. As President of Women in Film Cathy Schulman told Hollywood.com upon the release of Brave, “This [movie] is a really good example of challenging the stereotypes and showing that the box office can be your friend when you do that.”
But those discouraged by the subjugated characters of past, the Ariels and Jasmines, and the murky future in which our Rapunzels are headed, let us not forget that this list does have some great names: Pochahontas, Tiana, Mulan… we need more of these ladies, Walt.
Follow Michael Arbeiter on Twitter @MichaelArbeiter